Black leather, with suede leg and silk bow, hand- and machine-sewn
Museum no. T.494&A-1913
Given by Messrs Harrods Ltd.
Opera boots were also known as 'Dress Wellingtons' and were often worn when going out to dinner, the theatre, opera and other social evening occasions. Although they were shaped like a boot, they would have resembled a dress shoe when worn under trousers.
Many opera boots had bows attached, and the uppers were often made of different textures of leather to give the appearance of a dress shoe worn over a stocking. Some even had silk stocking legs laid over the leather to give even more of a stocking-like effect.
'Dress Wellingtons' were named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852). Wellingtons first appeared at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, when the army became more socially visible and military costume influenced fashionable dress. Another boot with military links was the Blucher, a laced boot named after the Prussian General Gebhart von Blucher, who played a decisive role alongside Wellington in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
An anonymous cavalry officer described how this style of boot could be used as a substitute for shoes in his book The Whole Art of Dress (1830):
'This boot is invented, doubtless, for the mere purpose of saving trouble in dress; for without attending to silk stockings or the trouble of tying bows, you have merely to slip on the boots, and you are neatly equipped in a moment.'