Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Just a Little Sole - Part Two

So why use cork for soles? Here are a few reasons:

Cork Soles for Shoes and Boots.
Cork, being a non-conductor of heat, is an excellent preservative of warmth in the feet when laid along the inside of shoes or boots, and it is so light that no inconvenience is felt from using shoes soled with it.
Common things of every-day life, by Martin Doyle, 1857

Shoes and Boots.—With reference to the plan of wearing cork soles, which we omitted to speak about, we have lately seen a new plan of inserting the cork sole, which certainly to our mind obviates many of the objections to the old plan. The leakage through the stitching of the upper-leather is prevented by a course of double stitching, which renders the upper-leather more secure than before, whilst guarding against the possibility of wet getting to the foot. The lightness and effectual resistance to wet would seem to recommend this plan far before the heavy leather soles, for those who have much walking in all weathers; but cork is liable to break easily at the edge in wear. Pegged shoes are now common and have much in their favour; they admit of trimming at any time. The author has adopted them for years, and prefers them to the sole-welted, stuffed, and stitched. This plan is American.
Hints for pedestrians, by Medicus. New (3rd) ed. By G.C. Watson, 1862

and a very wordy advertisement:


Principal Warehouse, 102 Wood Street, Cheapside, London, England.
American Establishments, 38 Ann Street and also 102
Nassau Street, New York, United States.
The Hydromagen is a valuable discovery for protecting the feet from damp or cold, and therefore a preventive of many lung diseases, without any doctoring whatever, The Hydromegen is in the form of a sole, and worn inside the boot or shoe. Its medicated character is a powerful antidote to disease.

For gentlemen, it will be found agreeable, warm and healthy, to wear in the coldest or rainiest weather, as the foot cannot become wet if the Hydromagen is inserted. Ladies may wear the lightest soled boot or shoes in the most inclement weather with impunity; while consumption, so prevalent among the young of our country, may be thwarted by their general adoption. They entirely supercede overshoes, as the latter cause the feet to perspire in a very unhealthy manner ; and, besides, are not dangerous wear to pedestrians in icy weather, like India rubbers. While the latter cause the feet to appear extremely large, the Hydromagen, being a mere thin slice of cork prepared, peculiarly placed inside, does not increase the size of the boot, or cause the foot to appear untidy. To children they are extremely valuable, as they may engage in exercise with comfort and healthy effects. Their expense is so slight as to scarce need mention ; besides, those who patronize them will find their yearly doctor's bills much diminished thereby.

The Southern Business Directory and General Commercial Advertiser: Vol. I., By John Paul Campbell, Published by Press of Walker & James, 1854

Now, my favorite giver of advice, Miss Eliza Leslie (she has an opinion on everything isn't afraid to tell you so), disagrees with the opinions given above:

"When you go out to tea, even in a summer evening, carry a shawl on your arm to throw over your shoulders before coming out into the night-air. This will preclude the necessity of borrowing one of your friend, should the weather have changed and grown cooler. Also, to prevent any risk from damp pavements, take with you a pair of over-shoes, (India-rubber, of course,) or else a pair of inside-soles, such as you can conveniently slip into your pocket. We have found no inside-soles equal to those of lamb-skin with the wool "left on the upper-side; the under-side of the skin being coated with India-rubber varnish to render them water-proof. These soles are both warm and dry, and are far pleasanter than cork soles covered with flannel, and more lasting. But if you are obliged to borrow things to wear home, see that they are sent back next morning, if not the same evening, and in good order—the shawl well-dried from the damp, and folded smoothly, and the over-shoes cleaned nicely."

The Behaviour Book: A Manual for Ladies, By Eliza Leslie, Published by W.P. Hazard, 1853

So, what do these selected references tell us?

1.) Insoles were definitely worn inside boots and shoes by both men and women. Cork being quite common, but at least one reference to treated lamb-skin. Good news for those of us who could use a bit more arch support than is supplied by reproduction shoes - but it doesn't make Dr Scholl's correct!

2.) Cork soles were considered healthy, helping to keep the feet warm and dry.

3.) A bit of vanity/fashion - they could be worn without being visible or causing the foot to appear larger.

I did find reference to a couple of additional uses, as an aid to those with one leg longer than the other to equalize the gait and to add height - vanity again!

Part three: Manufacturing: who and how were cork soles produced?

Coming soon!

No comments:

Post a Comment