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A Foot in the Past: consumers, producers and footwear in the long eighteenth century

Giorgio Riello|
Oxford University Press (22 May 2006)

A Foot in the Past analyses how footwear was consumed, retailed and produced in the eighteenth century. How many shoes were consumed? Who wore them? And what did the wearing of shoes mean in a society where part of the population walked barefoot?

The book replies to such questions by showing how the increasing availability of boots, shoes and slippers in the eighteenth century was matched by profound changes in the way footwear was sold by shoe sellers and purchased by customers. By the mid-eighteenth century large shops provided a wide array of types, sizes and shapes of footwear from high-class lustrous boots to cheap shows with nailed soles. Shoemaking, however, remained during the eighteenth and for most of the nineteenth century one of the most 'traditional' sectors of British and continental economies.

The fact that mechanisation and industrialisation affected boot and shoemaking only after 1850 is not exceptional. The production of most consumer goods remained dominated by small-scale urban productivity or changing the shape and quality of products This book argues that the social and economic practices in the consumption of footwear are fundamental for understanding how such garments were produced and sold. Rather than embracing the vision of economic development based on mechanisation and industrialisation, this book investigates how social and cultural contexts for consumption shaped the way in which consumers' needs were satisfied. These lines of enquiry are developed through a comparative analysis of British and French histories based upon primary and secondary sources and a wide-ranging survey of the literature on dress and fashion in the eighteenth century.

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