What Shoes Can Teach Us About War

By Danielle Krebsbach, Intern

I've never really been into fashion: I'm the kind of person who will wear clothes out until they have holes in them and even then I will keep them for laundry days or around the house. As far as shoes go I have about two or three pairs of shoes I wear regularly (work shoes, everyday shoes, and dressy shoes). So when Peggy proposed the idea of sorting through and cataloging all the shoes in the Historical Society's collection and I saw the stacks upon stacks of shoes, I was a little worried I would get bored with the project. However, after doing some preliminary online research and more thorough research I got hooked! I was really interested in how styles change over time and how a person could use the characteristics of these trends to date shoes. One of the books I found the most useful, and continue to use when dating the collection, was Women's shoes 1795-1930 by Nancy Rexford. The book is packed with information and yet formatted so well so that it was easy to follow when trying to date a shoe.

Besides writing a physical description of the shoe we also tried to research specific styles of shoes and manufacturers. This was my favorite part. It's so fascinating how much information one can find from a seemingly simple pair of shoes. One example that comes to mind was when I was examining a unique-looking boot, which had multiple rows of metal nubs (later found out to be hobnails) on the sole of the shoe.

 Pershing Boots

Pershing Boots

The yellow textile index card and the deed of gift both indicated that they were a pair of WWI army boots. This piece of information alone gave more information on the shoes and their date than many other shoes in the collection. I had enough information to fill out the worksheet and could have continued to another pair of shoes, but I decided to do some research on the boots-- like I said, it was my favorite part of cataloging. I quickly learned that they were a specific trench boot called Pershing boots and were only made in 1918: production stopped when the war ended. They were an improvement to the 1917 trench boot which easily caused trench foot. The information I found on these boots, which I knew little about before, gave them more context and gave me more insight into conditions and technology in WWI, which the La Crosse Historical Society can share with the community.