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A Brief History of Casual Shoes

These days, casual shoes are the go-to for men and women alike. You rarely see people wearing more formal styles of shoe – including brogues, mules or stilettos – while doing daily chores, such as walking the dog or supermarket shopping.

At Sweetfeet, we’re big advocates for casual shoes and love nothing better than spending a day in comfortable and stylish shoes. But when did they become so popular? Here’s a brief history of casual shoes.


The History of Casual Shoes

The First Mass-produced Shoes

The rise in popularity of casual shoes like trainers, loafers and sandals is thanks in part to the Industrial Revolution, but also to changing perceptions of what’s acceptable. Indeed, the history of footwear is long and varied – and fascinating to those who enjoy the world of fashion.

During the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the success of the sewing machine led the way to mass production capabilities for footwear. For the first time, patterns were made for left and right feet, and comfort and fit came under greater consideration than in previous times.  

The differences in fashion between social classes became less obvious. However, the difference in styles between men and women grew, with men needing practical shoes for work and designs for women being more fanciful and delicate, like high-heeled shoes and slip-on mules.

When Did Casual Shoes Become Mainstream?

While the fit and standards of footwear production improved towards the end of the 19th century, it wasn’t until a particularly recognisable American brand arrived on the shoe scene and caused a stir that sports shoes began to be seen as fashionable. Converse produced the first All Star training shoes in 1917, specifically for playing basketball. Thanks to their classic design and iconic status, they have changed very little in subsequent years.

Most of the recognisable aspects of modern-day footwear have been inspired by designs from the 1930s onwards. The classic design of boat shoes, originally seen as a shoe chosen by the wealthy in the 1930s, and the loafer style first used in the 1950s have remained popular and inspired current footwear, such as our stylish and comfortable Hey Dude range.

The 1930s and 1940s also saw the emergence of women’s feet in public. While the ancient Egyptians and Romans wore sandals, this was the first time in recent history that they were no longer deemed too exposing for females. Instead, these cooler designs were embraced for British summertime trips to the beach and adventures in the great outdoors. Women’s flat-soled shoes also became more popular, with canvas sports shoes worn for many daily tasks, and high heels reserved for more formal appearances.

Casual Shoes in the Current Day

Today, trainers and sports shoes are seen by many as a formal and designer-led choice of footwear, as much as traditional men’s brogues or oxford styles once were. The rich and famous even choose them as red carpet fashion statements. Designs such as Crocs have got celebrity endorsements, and flip-flops, loafers, plimsolls and espadrilles are commonplace pounding the pavements.

Here at Sweetfeet Shoes we have a great range of casual shoes, carefully chosen with design and comfort in mind. Call into our Totnes shop to try on your favourites or buy online.

  • May 29, 2019
  • Alex Sampson