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The number of shoes at the Charleston Museum


If you want to know Charleston history, look at people's feet. Their shoes might tell you more than you need to know about their class, status, attitudes, and sensibilities.

Maybe even their hygiene. Maybe even how men liked their women.

There are 648 shoes at the Charleston Museum, one of the country's oldest. The collection holds men's, women's, and children's shoes from 1740 to the middle of the 20th century. And most were worn in the Holy City.

There are combat boots, dancing slippers, and clogs. There are square-toed shoes, pointy-toed shoes, and shoes made of silk.

Most shoes in the Charleston Museum's collection were worn for formal and official occasions, says Jan Hiester, curator of textiles. The reason is that dress shoes would have been saved while working shoes or casual shoes would have been discarded over time.

An exception might be the bathing shoes women wore to the beach prior to the 1920s. It was proper then for women to be fully clothed. The canvas lace-up shoes were worn with stockings, a hat, and bloomer-like garment made of wool. "I don't know why anyone would wear that," Hiester muses.

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