Wet Feet! 1857 Warning Against Fashionable Shoes

Excerpted from “The Art of Preserving Health and Beauty- Essay V.- Wet Feet

The majority of this article from 1857 warns of dangers to health and the nervous system from wet feet. As it begins, “What a crowd of painful recollections are conjured up in the mind of a physician, of any age and experience, by the words WET FEET! The child which had been playing about in the morning, in all its infantile loveliness and vivacity, is seized at night with croupe from wet feet, and in a day or two is a corpse.”

Lovely, charming Victorian prose right there.

So let me skip a bit and go to the part that will interest the readers of my blog a little more than medical quackery (though that’s interesting, too- just not as much fun to type out).

Image source: FIDM Museum Blog. Evening Boots Circa 1850-1855

“At as season like the present, it would seem to be a matter of gratulation that shoes can everywhere be obtained of such materials as to preserve the feet dry and warm. Leather of various kinds- firm, pliable, and soft- is made to assume every variety of shape called for by convenience or fashion. But we mistake. Fashion! that despotic destroyer of comfort, and too often the sworn foe to health, will not allow the feet of a lady-fair to be encased in leather. She must wear, forsooth, cloth shoes, with thin leather soles; and even this pattern is barely conceded. A covering for the feet, never originally intended to be seen beyond the chamber or the parlor, is now that adopted for street parade and travel; and they whose cheeks we would not that the winds of heaven should visit too roughly, brave in prunelle the extremes of cold and moisture, and offer themselves as willing victims to all the sufferings of shivering ague, catarrh, and rheumatism. Tell them of a wiser course; argue with some on their duties as mothers and wives, to preserve their health, with others as daughters of beauty, who are risking, by approaching disease, the loss of their loveliness, and they will reply, that they cannot wear those horrid large shoes; that leather does not fit so nicely on the feet; and that india-rubber soles are frightful! They do not reflect that beauty consists in the fitness and harmony of things, and that we cannot associate it with ideas of suffering and disease. The light drapery so gracefully and elegantly arranged as to exhibit without obtruding her figure, is worthy of all admiration in the Grecian nymph, under a Grecian sky, and when its wearer is warmed by a Southern sun. The muslin robe of one of our beauties in the drawing-room is tasteful and appropriate, when lights and music are additions to the scene; but could we preserve our admiration for the Grecian nymph of the modern belle if, in these costumes, they were seen walking the streets amid sleet and wind? Pity they assuredly command but will a female be content with the suffering which any beggar is sure of receiving? We have gazed on the finest productions of the chisel and the pencil., we have studied beauty with the admiration of a lover and the purposes of an artist, and we assure our female readers that however much we may admire a small and finely turned foot, we cannot look upon it with a pleased eye, unprotected by suitable covering in a winter’s day. This covering is not prunelle, or that most flimsy stuff satirically called “everlasting.”

But how (conceding all the beauty claimed by its admirers to an exhibition of small feet, in neat tight shoes) can we receive this as a substitute for clear complexions, brilliant lustre of the eye, and the mild smile of content, all of which are lost by repeated attacks of cold; or the coming on of dyspepsia and sick headache, the consequences of wet and cold feet?

Custom it is alleged by some, renders persons thus exposed less liable to suffer. But the custom of occasionally walking out in thin cloth shoes, which are inadequate coverings for the feet, is a very different thing from the habit of constant exposure of these parts to cold and moisture. If the sandal were habitually worn, and the foot in a great measure exposed to the air, custom might then be adduced as an argument against increased precautions. It is idle to talk of females accustoming themselves to having their feet chilled, damp, or wet, and hour or two during a tour or visitation, when for the remainder of the day they will take the greatest pains to have them dry and warm, by toasting them, perhaps for hours, before a large fire.”

The Home Circle- Nashville: January, 1857 pages 6-7.

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