Category Archives: Shoes

Vintage Bathing Shoes: 1930s? 1940s? 1950s?

A lot of the fun of collecting anything is finding out about the things one has selected as worthy of their collection.  Sometimes this quest for knowledge is easy, thanks to Mr. Google.  But there are other times that I finally give up and consult an expert.

Above is a pair of rubber bathing shoes made by the United States Rubber Company, the company that also manufactured Keds sneakers.  Before the mid 1920s, bathing shoes were generally made from canvas, but by 1930 the old style had been replaced with the new rubber models.  They were, as one can imagine, much more practical, being waterproof.  Rubber bathing shoes remained popular throughout the 1930s, but by the 40s, more people were going barefoot in the water, and wearing sandals on the beach and at poolside.

At first glance, these shoes seem to be 1930s bathing shoes.  The style and the shape of the toe indicate a mid 30s to 1940 manufacture.  The box graphics and fonts also look 1930s.  So why am I questioning the dating?

The problem lies within the sole.  This wavy sole, made from what looks to be rubberized cork, is commonly found on shoes from the 1950s.  But were bathing shoes even still being made in 1950?  For help I turned to shoe expert, Jonathan Walford.

I felt a lot better after Jonathan emailed back that he found them to be confusing as well, saying that he did not associate the wavy soles with pre-WWII shoes.   And he did confirm that rubber bathing shoes were made into the 1950s.  His mother had a pair that she wore in the early 50s at the family beach cottage because of sharp shells and slimy seaweed.

It was Jonathan’s feeling that these shoes are most likely 1935-1940.  I agree with him, but I’m still looking for a source that clearly shows this type sole on a 1930s shoe.  The problem is that in ads, catalogs, and fashion spreads, the sole of a shoe is usually not shown.  I’ve seen a few maybes in late 30s catalogs, but nothing definite.  And as always, your thoughts are welcome.

I got these great shoes from Carol at Dandelion Vintage.  She runs what has to be one of the oldest online vintage stores on the Web.  She has nice things and excellent prices.  Thanks, Carol!


Filed under Shoes, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Ad Campaign – Wellco at the Bootery, Late 1950s

No need to cry “My feet are killing me!’  when you can buy Wellco Foamtreads for “The Walk That Relaxes.”

After the post last week about Wellco slippers and shoes, Jan Schochet sent this ad to me.  Someone had posted it on facebook, so she did not have the particulars about the ad.  However, there are plenty of clues in the ad that help us date it.

According to Jan, her parents relocated the Bootery from 9 Patton Avenue in Asheville to 16 Patton Avenue in 1963.  Note that the ad says that the “bubble sole” is patented.  This patent was granted in 1947.  So the ad has to be between 1947 and 1963.  The clip art graphics are in the style of the mid 1950s, but as you can see from the shoe style, this was not exactly a “fashion” oriented concern and the clip art could have been older.  Still, all signs point to a late 1950s date.

The ad has been also removed from its physical context, as the name of the newspaper is absent.  But the Bootery’s location in Asheville, and the reference to “right here in Western North Carolina” strongly suggest that the ad was in either the Asheville Citizen, or the Asheville Times.  Today the paper is the Asheville Citizen-Times.

There is so much information on the internet, that I can’t imagine trying to find out about these long out of business companies.  But this ad also illustrates an alarming trend, one that is brought about by Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook and other “gathering” sites.  So often photos are divorced from the context of their origins, and it forces people to guess at the image’s origin.  I’ve stopped looking at Tumblr and Facebook for that reason.  It’s just too frustrating.


Filed under Advertisements, Shoes

Saturday Evening Post, March 31, 1956

I love the way the old Saturday Evening Post covers told a story in one frame.  The mother’s look of sadness at her little girl all but grown.  The girl herself, awkwardly admiring her own reflection.  The salesman counting his commission.  The discarded penny loafers.

This was a rite of passage that passed me by.  I went straight from loafers and patent leather maryjanes to practical and comfortable knock-offs of Roger Viver’s Pilgrim pump.  Even when heels went back up in the 1970s, I tended to wear lower styles.  And today I’m strictly a Converse and oxfords type of woman.  I don’t think I’ve ever even owned a pair of proper stilettos.

But for that young miss in 1956, the heeled sandals were a necessary part of her dance ensemble.  I just hope she didn’t trip.


Filed under Shoes, Viewpoint

Wellco Shoes, Boots and Slippers

Photo copyright and courtesy of Small Earth Vintage

I’ve known about Wellco for a long time.  The factory used to be located just up the road a bit in Waynesville, North Carolina.  I guess I’d never considered doing a post about the company because in my mind they are makers of combat boots for the US military.  But there is a very interesting story behind Wellco, and some very pretty slippers.

The story revolves around Heinz Rollman who was a third generation shoemaker in Cologne, Germany.  In the 1930s he and his brother Ernst and two cousins,  Walter and Curt Kaufman, were working on ways to mold and attach rubber soles to leather uppers.   Because they were Jewish, in 1935 the family shoe factory was confiscated by the Nazi regime and was “aryanized.”  They then left the increasingly hostile atmosphere in Germany and settled in Brussels, Belgium where they formed a corporation to protect their patents and try and grow their business.

But by 1939, Germany was at war, and Belgium was being threatened.  The partners chose Heinz to go to the US to see if it was reasonable for them to relocate there.

In the US Heinz Rollman got in touch with rubber manufacturers, and found an ally in A.F. Friedlander, the owner of Dayton Tire and Rubber.   Together they scouted out for a location for a new rubber processing factory, and found the idea spot in Western North Carolina.  Friedlander built a factory, which became Dayco, and Rollman’s shoe operation was located in a wing of the factory.  Ernst Rollman was able to get to the US in 1941 with his wife and daughter, and after the war they were joined by the Kaufmans who spent much of the war in Switzerland.

Over the years the company was involved not only in making shoes and slippers, but also in research.  They held many patents on the vulcanization of rubber and  its application in shoe manufacturing.  In the 1960s they developed a combat boot for the US military that was suitable for the wet conditions of Vietnam, and ironically, many years later they developed a boot for the desert conditions of Iraq.

The most interesting part of this story is the man, Heinz Rollman.  He was known for his generosity and helpfulness, and many credit him with the original idea for the Peace Corps.  He wrote two books, My Plan for World Construction in 1952, and The Observer Corps, a Practical Basis for Peaceful Coexistence in 1957 that outlined how people from various countries interacting and helping one another might be beneficial for world peace.

I was pretty amazed at all the information there is on the internet concerning Heinz Rollman.  I found stories about his generosity on various local chat boards.  One told how he would visit a local store and spend $5000 a time on gifts for employees.   When the factory burned in the 1960s, Rollman paid the workers for the days they missed, and very quickly found a new building and machinery to get people back to work.  When people today lament the loss of American jobs, they are remembering businesses like Wellco and men like Heinz Rollman.

Wellco passed out of family hands several years ago, and the community was upset when the new owners abruptly moved the operation to Tennessee.  The slipper division was sold in the 1980s, but Wellco continues to make boots in Tennessee and elsewhere.

I want to thank Jan Schochet for alerting me to the Wellco story.  Jan co-wrote The Family Store, a book based on her research of Jewish businesses in Asheville.  Her family owned a store called The Bootery.  They sold Wellco shoes, mainly because Jan’s father was so impressed and moved by Heinz Rollman who personally traveled around the area with his suitcase of samples.

Correction:  I have corrected the name of Jan Schochet’s family store where Wellco shoes were sold.  It was the Bootery.  They also owned A Dancer’s Place.


Filed under Made in the USA, North Carolina, Shoes

Ad Campaign – Daniel Green Slippers, 1941

Do your Christmas shopping Easy

It’s all done as easily as this… Stop at any slipper counter or department.  Ask to see the new Daniel Green slippers for Christmas.  You’ll be in for a style treat!  And a color thrill!

This ad was written just before the US entered WWII, and while slippers made from cloth were not rationed in the States, I imagine that the pretty colors became a bit hard to obtain due to the scarcity of dyes.  I’ve read that many wartime brides wore white satin slippers because they were the only new – and appropriate for a wedding – shoes to be had.  I can picture a bride wearing the beautiful Militaire slipper at the top of the display.

I’ll be telling the fascinating story of another slipper company tomorrow.  This was a story that has been right under my nose, and it was just brought to my attention.  Some stories are worth the wait.


Filed under Advertisements, Shoes

Chanel Couture, Summer 2014

In case you missed it, the Paris Haute Couture shows were last week.  Compared to the ready-to-wear fashion weeks that are soon to come, these shows cause hardly a ripple.  But these clothes are surely the clothes of dreams, and I can dream with the best of them.

I don’t watch them all, but Chanel is always interesting from an historian’s point of view.  Karl Lagerfeld has the task of making each collection look like a Chanel collection, and I love seeing how he does it.

The big idea was the cropped jackets that expose a corset made from the same fabric.  I can’t imagine how Mademoiselle Chanel would feel about corsets, but Karl obviously liked them, because the majority of the looks featured one.

The idea worked better with some looks than with others.  When I was watching the runway show I thought that the models were wearing form-fitting camisoles, and I wanted to throw some of the women a doughnut.  They just looked so skinny.  This ensemble is a good example.  Personally, I think this would look so much better without a tiny little waist.  That means these clothes might actually flatter a more mature figure.  The tops might be a little too short for most tastes, but hey, this is couture.  If you are paying the equivalent of the price of a car for a dress, I think they might accommodate your desire for a longer top.

All the commentary I’ve read about this show has focused on one accessory – the shoes.   Just when we thought the running shoe with a dress look was firmly in the past, we have Lagerfeld reminding us that there are shoes that can be walked in.  The models skipped and hopped down a grand staircase, adding to the effect of lightness in the clothes.

It made for a fun show, but would anyone actually wear the shoes with a couture outfit?  I don’t know, but I have read several laments by the fashion crowd because the only way to get a pair is to order one of the couture dresses or suits.   That, plus the 3000 euro price tag might be a bit discouraging.  3000 euros is $4100 by the way, and is expensive even for Chanel.  The boots I loved so much from the pre-fall collection were “only” $1600.

I won’t be surprised to see a cheaper collection show up for summer.

I didn’t much care for the pants looks, but I wanted to show this one because of the white collar and cuff, and the black tie.  So Chanel.  And have I seen a similar look from years past?  It just looks so familiar.

The lack of   accoutrements was a bit unusual, but I loved the clean look of just the dress, the girl, and her sneakers.

But when he did add accessories, he really added them.  Is she accident prone, or just a skateboarder wannabe?  And yes, that is a fanny pack.

These full length shots do not tell the entire story.  To see just how special these looks are, you have to see the garments close-up.  Here you can see the details of the very first look.  To see more, there is a slideshow at  Be sure to zoom.

All photos copyright of


Filed under Designers, Shoes

More Days Wear, Warm and Dry in “Ball-Band” Boots

I think most of us in the Northern Hemisphere could do with a good, warm pair of boots today.  This little sales booklet comes from 1922, and is full of interesting options.

Ball-Band was a trademark of the Mishawaka Woolen Manufacturers of Mishawaka, Indiana.  As the name implies, the company started out as a woolen mill, making blankets and wool felt boots.  In 1886 the company conceived of a boot with knitted wool uppers in which the wool was first knit, then felted through shrinkage.  The owner’s mother, Mrs. Jacob Beiger, knit the prototype for the product.  They were still being sold in 1922.

Rubber shoes and over-shoes were added as a product in 1898 with many of the shoes having a rubber sole and upper, and wool legs.  In 1922, they added sneakers, or sports shoes.  The next year the company changed their name to the Mishawaka Rubber and Woolen Company.

The little booklet tells not only the company’s story, but it also explains how rubber is produced and made usable by use of the Goodyear process.  They also treat us to views of the woolen mill.

To vintage collectors  probably the most familiar Ball-Band product is their line of Summerettes.  Summerettes were fashionable canvas sandals which had rubber soles and were meant for casual wear.  The name Summerettes was trademarked by the company in 1947 with the claim that the name had been in use since 1934, but their era of popularity was the 1950s.

By the 1960s, rubber over-shoes, regardless of their practicality, had become passe’.   Ball-Band fell behind in the sneaker game, with Keds, Converse, and PF Flyers all being the brands kids loved.  In 1967 Ball-Band was bought by Uniroyal, and in 1969, the last pair of shoes was made at Mishawaka.  Today the factory site is a public park.

A quick internet search showed that the Ball-Band brand name lives on in the form of cheap synthetic shoes for nurses and nuns.  I assume they are made in the Far East.

I have a new pair of Ball-Band shoes that I’ll show off soon.  They are sneakers in the form of Maryjanes.

PS:  How about that cover image?  Would you put a gun into the hands of a child that small?  And check out his “hunting” dog.


Filed under Shoes