Shoes With Sole

Rationing introduced as part of the war effort during World War II reduced the amount of leather available for making shoes for civilians. Shoemakers were therefore forced to experiment with different materials to replace this depleting resource in their shoes.

One solution to this problem was to use natural resources. Norway and Denmark made use of their fish resource, after their animal hides were confiscated by occupying forces. They did this by replacing their confiscated leather with fish skin. Brightly coloured dyes and textured pebble surfaces disguised the inferior quality of the material.


Within our collection we discovered examples of fish skin being used on the upper section of various shoes. These unusual shoes were wartime experiments from the early 1940s. They were created by the shoe company Eduard Rheinberger A.G. of Pirmasens in west Germany.


The fish skin is surprisingly robust, having survived almost completely intact, and has a noticeably intriguing pattern compared with leather.

However, the use of fish skins did not necessarily begin in the 1940s. The decreasing length of skirts in the 1920s sparked a change in fashion, increasing shoe production. By the end of the 1920s sea leathers had been invented, which used the skins of fish in the shark family. Although commonly used in Japan, this was a quite innovative idea in Europe. One of the earlier designers to use sea skins was Salvatore Ferragamo, who used sea-leopard to make his shoes from 1928.

By Rebecca Wormald, Documentation Officer

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