Just mentioning the word slippers conjures up images of coming home, excavating your tired feet from your work shoes and easing them into some comfortable slippers. The slipper is basically an indoor shoe and has existed since Roman times, when they were called “socci”. The word defines any thin-soled shoe that can be made from fine leather or fabric and elaborately decorated. The only essential feature is that they slip on and off the foot easily. They were not designed to be functional as you would not have worn them outside. In fact, the fancier your slippers the better. It is reported that Empress Josephine (who owned 521 pairs) complained to her shoemaker about a hole appearing in her slippers after wearing them only once. He apparently told her that the problem arose because she had walked in them!
Slippers signified that the wearer was wealthy because they were not required to work outside, which meant that they could wear impractical shoes. The bishops of Elizabeth I’s time in England wore brocaded silk and velvet flat-soled slippers, and slippers with heels were fashionable for men and women at that time. Shoemakers in Venice added such a large amount of gold and gems to their slipper designs that sumptuary laws were passed to prevent them spending too much money on them.
As sensible shoes were a sign of the working classes, in the 1800s ladies wore their slippers outside even though they were incapable of protecting their feet from the elements. At balls the fine fabrics of such shoes were worn threadbare by the end of an evening’s dancing.
Today elaborate and delicate slippers are worn as evening or bridal shoes. They are often only worn once, à la Marie Antoinette who owned many priceless pairs, and the decoration is thus more important than the practicality. The term ‘slipper’ no longer applies to just delicate footwear, but also to the shoes you wear when mooching about the house.
For slippers that you want to wear every day until they feel like part of your feet, leather is a good option as it softens with age and is very comfortable. Choose a leather that is not too delicate or it will wear away quickly. Leather slippers decorated with sequins in a Moroccan style (sometimes called ‘babouches’) are now popular, as are Birkenstocks or similar styles of shoe. These days we are equally concerned with comfort, good quality and practicality in our everyday footwear as we are with out-and-out exorbitance in our one-off shoes.