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In her shoes: How hiding her ankles led to more colorful expression

February 17, 2015

Filed under Collections, Pennsylvania Treasures

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In the mid-18th century, a new type of footwear called "gaiters" came into fashion promising to not only cover a woman's foot, but also her ankle.  Enter Abraham R. DeHaven who moved to Philadelphia at an early age and designed the gaiters pictured here.

In the mid-18th century, a new type of footwear called “gaiters” came into fashion promising to not only cover a woman’s foot, but also her ankle.
Enter Abraham R. DeHaven who moved to Philadelphia at an early age and designed the gaiters pictured here.

During the mid-19th century, ladies’ style of dress began to change. Hoop skirts replaced the layered petticoats of previous years, allowing a woman to still fill out her full skirt but be much cooler and less weighted down with material. However, the new skirts posed a problem for the modest Victorian woman: should there be a heavy gust of wind or her hoop skirt tilt a certain way, it would be possible for onlookers to see her ankles. Flat shoes, while popular for the day, only covered a woman’s foot. Soon, a new type of footwear called “gaiters” came into fashion promising to not only cover a woman’s foot, but also her ankle. These changes encouraged many woman to wear colored shoes again, rather than just black or white, since their flats had not been visible under the heavy skirts and petticoats of the previous generation.

Enter Abraham R. DeHaven who moved to Philadelphia at an early age and designed the gaiters pictured here. DeHaven’s shop was initially located in what was the theater district along North 8th Street. These pink, silk shoes with leather soles and laces closure at the instep won DeHaven an award from the Franklin Institute at the 1864 Sanitary Fair in Philadelphia. Images of the beautifully decorated soles show handwritten documentation of this award.

Unfortunately, we do not know who owned or wore these Victorian-era gaiters or how they found their way to the State Museum of Pennsylvania. Museum staff discovered them in our holdings in 1929. CAP Curator Carol Buck submitted this pair of gaiters as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure.

The United States Sanitary Commission was formed in 1861 as a relief agency to support sick and injured U. S. Army soldiers during the Civil War. Sanitary Fairs were held as a way for communities to support the war effort. The first Sanitary fair was held in Chicago in 1863. The Great Central Fair, part of the Philadelphia Sanitary Fair, held at Logan Square (now Logan Circle) was hosted June 7 through June 28, 1864. That celebration featured more than 100 booths and departments offering items for sale ranging from wax fruit, lingerie, fine arts, umbrellas and canes.

 

About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.