If the shoe fits, wear it: why retro footwear is sex on legs

Dorothy's ruby slippers may be out of your price range, but bargains can be found if you're willing to do the legwork
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The Independent Online

It's official: second-hand is sexy.

Endorsement from fashion icons such as the supermodel Kate Moss and top stylist Bay Garnett has helped thrift and charity shop fashion to take hold in the high street.

Yet while the perfect retro frock is one thing, buying a contemporary pair of shoes to go with it is quite another. After all, hand-me-down footwear can't be washed like an old blouse or dry-cleaned like a coat, and is often imprinted with the shape of the wearer's foot.

But although second-hand shoes have not been at the centre of the current retro revival, our new-found interest in the fashions worn by previous generations has created an opportunity for collectors.

"Vintage shoes are an untapped market because they are the one area of the second-hand clothes market that people are still wary of," says Caroline Cox, fashion expert and author of Stiletto, a study of the most seductive shoe in history.

There has never been a better time to dip your toes into the vintage shoe market.

Although you might not trip over anything like the scarlet satin, rhinestone-studded Ferragamo stilettos once worn by Marilyn Monroe and sold by Christie's in New York for more than $48,500 (£25,500), there is still money to be made in this market.

A £5 pair of Seventies stilettos from Oxfam in reasonable condition can fetch £50 in a specialist vintage clothing and fashion shop, or if sold online.

An original pair of 1970s shoes from the British designer Terry de Havilland could fetch between £400 and £500.

Sara Pope is a collector and owner of around 100 pairs of shoes, who is also studying footwear design at Cordwainers at the London College of Fashion, a joint initiative between the college and the long-established livery company.

Ms Pope holds regular shoe sale parties at her home, with prices starting from £20 and rising to as much as £80, depending on the design and quality of the craftsmanship.

One pair, black with hand-painted flowers, picked up for £2 in a charity shop, recently sold for £30.

"I don't go for anything overly fashionable or a particular designer," says Ms Pope. "I just look for beautiful, soft leather and something that makes the foot look good."

As a vintage shoe collector, she sticks to set rules: never pay more than £40 and don't buy anything too worn or battered. "The older and more roughed up a shoe is, the more it reminds you that it has been worn by someone else," she adds.

Would-be collectors who don't have Ms Pope's knowledge of the market are well advised to start by choosing an area to specialise in. This might be a particular decade or designer, or category, such as shoes worn by actresses in films.

In the latter case, the holy grail for collectors must be the famous ruby-red slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, which made $660,000 (then around £412,000) when sold at auction in 2000.

Ms Cox says that among more affordable collectables worth searching out are 1970s wedgies, stilettos and - with their unmistakable note of Latin passion - tango shoes. Alternatively, if you are prepared to hunt high and low for bargains and have the cash to spare, you could look out for designers such as Roger Vivier, whose extravagant 1960s and 1970s creations earned him the title "the Fragonard of the shoe", and Charles Jourdan, whose family firm designed for Dior from the late 1950s.

Don't forget the legendary Manolo Blahnik, either. His exquisite footwear turned him into a style icon when his designs were worn by the actress Sarah Jessica-Parker in the hit TV show Sex and the City.

The Parisian designer Stephane Kélian is another name to look out for.

Whether it's ballet pumps or scary stilettos, once you've decided what to concentrate on, you'll need to do your homework. Learn as much as you can about your target shoe - only then will you recognise the ones that are a little different and therefore more likely to bring in extra value.

Given that people have long disposed of their old shoes, you can expect to find unwanted footwear in all sorts of places. Happy hunting grounds are charity shops, car boot sales, attics and even the back of your mum's wardrobe.

The number-one rule when visiting charity shops is: don't be afraid to rummage. It's usually the case that the most collectable items lurk at the bottom of the pile. And keep going back to any shop you think might have hidden treasures, because the good stuff goes fast. Twice a week is not excessive for an enthusiastic collector.

The online auction site eBay will give you an idea of prices currently being paid for vintage shoes, and which types are most popular. Keep a close eye on the fashion press, too, to see where the style trends are heading.

STAY ON YOUR TOES

Prices

If you look long and hard enough, designer shoes can be picked up in charity shops for just a few pounds.

An original 1970s pair of Terry de Havilland shoes can sell for up to £500, while a pair of satin stilettos worn by Marilyn Monroe sold for £25,000 in the late 1990s.

More information

* Stiletto by Caroline Cox, published by Mitchell Beazley at £30.

* www.camdenlock.net - information on vintage clothing and accessories to be found at the north London market

* www.retrodress.com - US site featuring a range of shoes from the Fifties onwards, including designs from Charles Jourdan and Manolo Blahnik.

* www.eBay.com - the ultimate auction site

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