Carl Franz Bally founded a shoe factory in Switzerland in 1851. Within decades, the Bally name had achieved worldwide recognition for its high-quality footwear. The history of modern footwear can be traced through the lens of Bally's corporate evolution. This book brings together the results of research on such topics as the economic importance of fashion, Bally's fortunes in the US, the career of shoe design, the sourcing and use of materials, and the rise of strategic product display. The research focuses on the 1930s and 1940s: years of economic crisis and war, characterized by a wide diversity of designs and increasing variety in product range. Shortages also led to experiments with materials and technical innovations. Featuring numerous points of contact with adjacent fields of historical study, this publication marks a contribution to the history of fashion as the history of industrially manufactured products.
Shoes are accessories. They add the finishing touches to an outfit, complete a look. Shoes offer up information about social identities, class, and gender roles. From clogs to sandals, high heels to brogues, sneakers to boots—shoes have become indispensable extensions of the body, shaping the way we stand and walk. With the appropriate footwear, walking can assume entirely different forms. We might go for a leisurely stroll, a “turn”, decide to walk to work, or go for a hike—and so shoes also symbolize our (historically contingent) understanding of public space and our changing relationship to the natural world. At the same time, shoes are also complex, technical products. More than 100 work stages are still required to manufacture classic men’s shoes, for example. Nor is the process entirely mechanical or automated. Even today, shoemaking involves skilled crafts(wo)manship. Leather, the most important basic material, should only be cut to shape under the exacting eye of an expert. The evolution of the shoe into a mass-produced consumer product took several decades. Following the development of numerous specialist machines in the late 19th century, production underwent another fundamental change in the first third of the 20th century with the emergence of synthetics and glues. These innovations reduced the number of work stages, which in turn brought down total production costs.
The present work brings together the results of two research projects, both funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF), on the modern history of the shoe: “Diversity versus Scarcity: Design and Economic Challenges in the Swiss Shoe Industry, 1930–1950”, and “Design—Material—Display: The Example of the Swiss Shoe Manufacturer Bally, 1930–1950”. The two projects, undertaken in 2013–2014 and 2017–2018 respectively, were coordinated at the Institute for Cultural Studies of the ZHdK—Zürich University of the Arts.
Having served as the starting point for the project, Bally’s extensive corporate archives yielded an array of diverse historical sources. In addition to thousands of shoes, the archives also contain advertising material, posters, and business documents — sources opened up to academic scrutiny for the first time. Our research focused on fashion design and economic history from the decades spanning 1930 to 1950. This period, which includes the epochal events of the Second World War, witnessed decisive and fundamental upheavals in economic, cultural, and political life. These transformations shaped Bally’s own history, and shoe design more generally. From the perspective of fashion history, these years stand out for the products’ varied design, quality craftsmanship, and technical inventiveness. Shortages during the Second World War precipitated experiments with materials and technical innovations, which reflected developments, both directly and indirectly, in cultural and contemporary history, as well as the unfolding economic situation.