Ballerinas, pumps, flats, dolly shoes – so many names for one simple shoe. But this shoes simplicity disguises a rather colourful history. Today ballerina pumps are seen in the wardrobes of women internationally and more often than not in multiple pairs in every colour and every material.
But fashion timelines can trace the evolution of ballerinas as far back as medieval times when a long, pointy and rather “Rumplstiltskin” version known as the poulaine where worn regularly. Interestingly, these shoes where seen as a status symbol with commoners only permitted to wear shoes no longer than 6 inches. A Knight however could command up to 18 inches, whilst a Baron could reflect his status in an impressive 24-inch pair!
By the 1500s the ballerina pump had seen a transformation into a staple in the male wardrobe and the French pompes was created, (translated literally as pump) and often worn as comfortable eveningwear. The 16th century also saw flats in many forms remain a popular choice with both men and women donning them. Even the wealthy women of ancient Egypt wore their version of flats made from braided papyrus leaves, decorated with jewels to promote their wealth.
During the 17th and 18th century, ballerinas saw a quiet spell amongst the fashionistas, when the future Queen of France, teenager Catherine de’ Medici, due to marry Henri Duke of Orleans requested that her cobbler add 5 cm to her wedding shoes. Heels where however to fall out of grace in rather gruesome circumstances when Marie Antoinette walked to the guillotine in a pair of heels resulting in a swift revival of the flatter shoe.
It was the early 19th century when it became acceptable for not just men to wear boots, but also women and this revolution in fashion saw a rise in the boot trend and for some time ballerina styling was seen as the staple shoe of peasants.
The years and decades that followed saw many trends in footwear, with ballerina flats slipping in and out of favour. But it was the power of the big screen that was to finally bring ballerinas back into the limelight once and for all.
French shoe designer Rose Repetto created a pair of true ballerinas on the request of her son and dance choreographer Roland in 1947. Ballet studios adored the shoe and embraced it with open arms but it was nine years later when a young Brigitte Bardot requested that Rose make her a pair to wear them in the 1956 film “And God Created Woman”. This inspired Rose to begin commercial production with a debuting red ballet flat suitable for everyday wear.
The following year in 1957 saw the release of the film Funny Face with the iconic, ever stylish, ever popular and ever graceful Audrey Hepburn wearing a simple black pump that reignited the ballerinas popularity - a popularity that has not waned. And since its re-launch back onto the fashion stage this style of shoe has refused to be ignored. With catwalk royalty and trendsetter Kate Moss championing them, and despite Victoria Beckham declaring that they made her look like a golf club, these shoes have become fashion aristocracy.
Today the ballerina pump remains a true classic. It is no longer dependent on fashion to keep it on the rise. Its versatility in dress wear, adaptable from weekend skinny jeans to work tailored trousers to wine bar pencil skirts means that the ballerina has worked hard to solidify itself as a permanent feature in the world of shoes.