18th Century Women's Mules

While we tend to classify these backless (and generally heeled) shoes as “mules,” this may be more of a French term for this style of footwear; The New Pocket Dictionary of the French and English Languages translates the French word “mule” as a woman’s ſlipper (1784, 1793).

Men’s mules tend to have a wider profile, and broader heels (if they have heels at all); they were often (though not always) worn with a banyan or nightgown. See NT 1140120.2, V&A T.8&A-1922, V&A T.9&A-1922, and Kerry Taylor Auctions 26 June 2012, Lot 60, for example.

Extant examples

  • MFA 43.1726a-b, pair of miniature mules (possibly a child’s), French, 1675-1725; “Vamps: salmon silk brocaded with white silk in floral motif; yellow grosgrain bindings; pointed at throats. Pointed toes. White leather welts. Brown leather soles. Dark brown leather-covered wood Louis heels; leather top piece on one. Silk and leather insoles. Buckskin linings emerge above vamp toplines; salmon silk cord passes through soles and ties through linings at throats.”
  • Augusta Auctions April 2006, Lot 571, 1690-1720: “Ivory kid w/ padded metallic silver embroidery on ivory silk vamp, red leather heels”
  • MFA 43.1716a-b, late 17th-early 18th century; “Orange silk velvet upper, gold silk tape ruching and binding at top, silver toe piece in stylized floral motif. Pointed toe. Brown leather covered Louis heel, top piece. Dark brown leather sole. White leather insole, leather lining.”
  • Met 2009.300.1483a, b, early 18th century; “This fairly conservative example of ladies’ mules features a low heel and good quality embroidery in tastefully subdued tones. This style of embroidery is known as Florentine work, a type of flame stitch canvas work with varied stitch lengths.”
  • Met 2009.300.4748, early 18th century; uppers in linen embroidered in canvas work
  • MFA 43.1720a-b, 1700-1740s; “Ribbed salmon silk upper embroidered with silver yarns in conventional vegetative motif; band of silver and white silk embroidery and blue silk binding along top. Pointed toe. Brown leather covered wood Louis heel, top piece. Leather sole. Green ribbed silk and brown leather insole, leather lining.”
  • Rosgartenmuseum, brocade, c. 1710-1720; another pair in trimmed brocade
  • Met 29.158.887a, b, French, 1720-1729
  • MFA 43.1723a-b, 1720s-1740s; “Red silk velvet upper trimmed with gilt-silver bobbin lace. Pointed toe. Tan leather covered Louis heel, top piece. Brown leather sole, insole; leather lining.”
  • MFA 44.486a-b, 1720-1740s; “Paper upper solidly embroidered with mica held in cloisons formed by plaited and netted straw in conventional floral motif. Pointed toe. Green silk covered Louis heel. Leather sole. Pale green silk binding at edges. White silk insole, red silk lining.”
  • MFA 43.2256a-b, French, 1725-1750; “Uppers of strung glass beads (called sablé) held together with looping stitches in polychrome poppy bouquet on white background with decorative border along top. Pointed toe. Brown leather covered wood Louis heel, top piece. Leather sole and lining; white leather insole.”
  • MFA 43.2257a-b, French. 1725-1750; “Vamps of strung glass beads (called sablé) held together with looping stitches in motif of polychrome man and woman dancing (each vamp mirrors other) on white background with decorative border at top edge; narrow metallic galloon binding. Pointed toes. White leather-covered Louis heels, top pieces. White leather welts. Brown leather soles. White kid insoles and linings.”
  • MFA 43.1718a-b, 1730s; “White silk twill upper brocaded with polychrome silks in vegetative motif; three silver rosettes, silver fringe and pale green silk ruching along top. Pointed toe. Brown leather covered wood Louis heel, top piece. Leather sole, insole, lining.”
  • V&A T.102-1971, France, 1730s; “Pair of mules with pointed toe, high cut and heels covered with red leather. The toe pieces are made with beads worked in a woven technique, in shades of yellow, green, red and blue on a white ground arranged to form a pattern of a basket from which floral sprays grow with two birds flanking the top. The upper is bound with gilt ribbon and lined with white kid, canvas and blue silk. A piece of floral brocade, a white ground on which is yellow, green and beige pattern with white flowers, covers the instep. There is white kid lining to the sides of the leather sole.”
  • MFA 43.1722a-b, 1730s-1740s; “White ribbed silk upper embroidered with green and yellow silk and gilt-silver yarns in conventional floral motif; green pleated silk ribbon and gilt-silver, silver and white silk trim along top. Pointed toe. Brown leather covered wood Louis heel, top piece. Leather sole, insole, lining.”
  • MFA 43.1719a-b, 1730s-1740s; “Salmon silk upper with pale blue, yellow and white silk and silver brocading yarns in floral motif; green silk pleated ribbon and gilt-silver and white silk trim along top. Pointed toe. Brown leather covered wood Louis heel, top piece. Leather sole. Yellow silk and white leather insole, leather lining.”
  • MFA 43.1733, 1740s; “Red velvet upper embroidered with pale blue silk and gilt-silver yarns in conventional spray with bow, gilt-silver bobbin lace along top. Pointed toe. Brown leather covered curved high wood heel, top piece. Leather sole. suede and white leather insole, leather lining.”
  • MFA 43.1734, 1740s; “Pink silk upper embroidered with silver yarns and wire in conventional motif, pink silk binding along top. Pointed toe. Red leather covered Louis heel, top piece. Leather sole. White leather welt, insole, lining.”
  • Met 1978.356a, b, c. 1750; embroidered silk uppers
  • MFA 43.1717a-b, 1750s; “Yellow damask upper embroidered with silver yarns in conventional leaf motif, band of silver and white silk embroidery and pink silk binding along top. Pointed toe. Brown leather covered Louis heel, top piece. Leather sole. White leather insole, leather lining.”
  • Kerry Taylor Auctions 23 June 2015, Lot 60, “A pair of green leather mules, circa 1750-1760, with white kid covered low curved heels, wide spoon-shaped insoles, the upper edged in white linen braid”
  • MFA 44.553, an infant’s mule, 1750-1800; “Vamp: blue figured silk; blue twill binding. Round toe. Dark brown leather sole. Silk-covered heel, leather top piece. White kid insole and lining.”
  • MFA 43.1721a-b, c. 1770; “Green damask(?) silk upper embroidered with silver yarns in conventional motif; band of silver fringe and pink silk binding along top. Pointed toe. Brown leather covered wood Louis heel, top piece. Leather sole. White leather insole, leather lining.”
  • Shoes of Catherine the Great, 1770s
  • Kerry Taylor Auctions 20 November 2017, Lot 65, “A pair of pink leather ladies mules, circa 1775-85, with rounded toes, pointed throat with remains of ivory wool braid edging, the insoles overhang the low white leather heels”
  • MFA 44.565, woman’s mule, French, 1775-1800; “Red silk velvet upper, pink silk binding alond top. Pointed toe. Brown leather Louis heel. Dark brown leather sole. White leather welt; leather lining and insole stamped with arms of Conti family.”
  • MFA 43.2259a-b, French, c. 1794; “Tops of strung glass beads (called sablé) held together with looping stitches. Pink silk lining, leather soles. Top scene of balloon ascension, with two mounted, uniformed men in foreground, based on print depicting battle of Fleurus of 26 June 1794.”
  • MFA 43.1744a-b, 18th century; “Upper of straw couched to plain cotton and embroidered with polychrome silk yarns in floral motif; silver embroidered swag and white silk binding along top. Pointed toe. White leather insole and lining.”
  • MFA Boston 38.1364a-b, a pair of children’s mules, French, 18th century

Depictions of women wearing mules