In 1837 Queen Victoria was presented with this pair of dainty 'elastic' sided boots, the first to be invented, made by Englishman Joseph Sparkes Hall.
Boots were popular with men during the 1800s and they were soon adopted by women. By the mid 1800s they had become the most common form of footwear for both sexes in all social classes. Ankle-length boots without heels, known as high-lows, were fashionable for women. The boot was the most popular form of footwear for both sexes by the mid 1800s. The difficulties of fastening a boot with buttons and laces led London shoemaker Joseph Sparkes Hall to experiment with fastenings and the elastic-sided boot resulted. The gusset for this elastic-sided boot is made of tightly coiled wire covered in cotton. By 1840 coiled wire was replaced by rubber. Improvements in his design led Hall to describe the elastic-sided boot as 'the most perfect thing of its kind'. Sparkes Hall patented the design on 14 May 1840, the first registered design to feature elastic (Levitt 1986).
Joseph Sparkes Hall's prototype version of the elastic-sided boot was presented to Queen Victoria in 1837, the year she ascended to the throne. In 'The Book of the Feet' written in 1846, Sparkes Hall claims the Queen was well satisfied with the design, noting that 'Her majesty has been pleased to honour the invention with the most marked and continued patronage: it has been my privilege for some years to make her boots…and no one who is acquainted with her Majesty's habits of walking and exercise, in the open air, can doubt the superior claims of elastic over every other kind of boots'. The influence of Queen Victoria (after which an entire era has been named) in the area of fashion is noteworthy. Styles worn by the Queen, such as the above boots, the white wedding dress and riding habit, were quick to become popular, spreading throughout England and the colonies. The elastic sided boots soon became the most popular form of footwear, worn by both men and women. For evening wear a cream satin version was developed of which there are several examples in the Museum's collection.
This unique pair of boots is significant, not only for their extraordinary provenance, but also for their innovative design. The elastic sided boot has retained its popularity in Australia where it is used both by urban and rural wearers. For example elastic sided boots by R. M. Williams and Blundstone are extremely popular. The Powerhouse Museum houses an extensive and internationally significant collection of shoes. This collection provides a unique insight into footwear history, demonstrating how changes in contemporary attitudes, needs and etiquette directly affected shoe design. It also reveals the fine skills of shoemakers as well as the impact of scientific developments and technological innovations on the materials and construction methods.
Michelle Brown, 2007
Levitt, Sarah, 'Victorians Unbuttoned: Registered Designs for Clothing, their Makers and Wearers, 1839-1900' George Allen & Unwin, London, 1986, p156
Sparkes Hall, Joseph, 'The Book of the Feet', Simpkin, Marshall & Co., New York, 1846