Killer heels and bold boots - favourites from SHOES: INSIDE OUT

We are midway through the run of Shoes: Inside Out at The Arc, Winchester, and the furious footfall of footwear fanatics filing into The Gallery shows no signs of slowing. The consensus is that these objects are extraordinary, yet still relatable. The popularity of certain pieces keeps bringing people back again and again. The reasons for being drawn to a shoe are as numerous as existing styles and, in this article, John Reed looks at some clear favourite shoe types from the show.


As much as the silk or satin brocades or strawberry details elicit excited responses from visitors, so do the hardy utilitarian clogs whose lineage is rooted in workwear. These toe protectors have been garnering much attention. People have been remarking on the sturdy appearance of the safety boot on display and little wonder as these wooden waders no doubt saw much action! Our local workers clog is getting some much-deserved attention. 

MEN’S RAILWAY CLOG (one of a pair) Leather upper, wooden outsole with metal rims, c1920s

These clogs were issued as safety boots to workers at the Eastleigh Locomotive Works, Hampshire, during the 1920s. In the steel trades, men could burn through four pairs in day when working with hot metal. 


For many people, the ‘killer heel’ is an essential part of their wardrobe whether they choose to wear them or not, and statements made by these shoes are unmistakable, but swapping to trainers is permissible. For staff at The Arc, these are some of the most impressive shoes on display, and stilettos are among some of Visitor Assistant Jay Sadotra’s favourite shoes. She owns a pair of stiletto-heeled mules, and although she has never really worn them, they are special to her all the same, and she stolidly maintains that she ‘will never part with them!’. Worn or not, the power emanating from our Louboutins is no mirage: 

WOMEN’S ‘ALTI’ SHOES, CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN Black patent leather, red leather, c.2009-10 

The red soles of Louboutin are iconic and supposed symbols of female power. This is emphasised in this pair by the spikes on the uppers echoing punk rock symbolism. The stiletto dagger was a medieval weapon designed to puncture plate armor – a pleasing link to the modern notion of the ‘killer heel’. 


The presence of a boot is unmistakable from the size and heft of a boot print to the elongated uppers with glinting buckles or shimmering PVC they demand attention. This is no different in our exhibition. For me, it is the goth boots that I love as they are so righteous. Whenever I see someone decked out in alt apparel, fishnets and all, I can’t help but find inspiration in the gutsiness of their self-expression. It makes me want to paint my nails black! Not to mention, these boots are just really visually appealing in their thick black, uncompromising chunkiness: 

WOMEN’S GOTH STYLE BOOTS, SELLA, U.K - Black patent synthetic upper, nickel buckles, rubber, platform heel, 2008

With contemporary synthetic materials and production techniques, these boots are deceptively light. The x-ray displays an almost space-age appeal to their construction. These boots were exhibited in 2008 in an exhibition called Dressed 2 Express. A young woman brought in and donated a wristband bearing the word S.O.P.H.I.E. – ‘Stamp Out Prejudice Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere’. This organisation was set up in memory of Sophie Lancaster who was murdered in August 2007 by a group of teenaged boys. Sophie was a goth and singled out because she dressed differently. These boots epitomise the youthful desire of some to identify or align with others with a similar outlook. 

Shoes: Inside Out at The Arc

The types of shoes covered in this article are a small example of all that is attracting people to Shoes at The Arc, but this sample is enough to show how dynamic the display is and the strength of the relational power of shoes to draw in visitors. Be it craftsmanship, artistry or another kind of significance, the footwear in our exhibition speaks to people in different ways. Come and see for yourself! 

SHOES: INSIDE OUT is open until March 6 at The Arc, Winchester.

Free admission. 

Shoes: Inside Out | The Arc
From the functional and practical to the fashionable and extravagant, shoes have played an intriguing role in our social history and modern lives. They can tell us about a person’s work, leisure choices, status, and aspirations - but the story is not always straightforward. Conformity to gender stereotypes is blurred, power statements conceal repression, and the utilitarian merges with the frippery.
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