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Eva Garrick’s Two Left Feet

A blog about a pair of eighteenth shoes said to have belonged to Mrs. Garrick, a celebrated dancer and socialite.

Katherine Reeve

Eva Garrick is best known today as the wife of David Garrick, the famous eighteenth century actor-stage manager whose Shakespeare Jubilee put Stratford-upon-Avon on the literary map. However, in her own lifetime, Eva was far more than just a goody-two shoes ‘Mrs Garrick’. Katherine Reeve opens Eva’s glamorous wardrobe to find out more about her.

Shoes, c. 1760-1770. A pair of women's shoes, said to have been worn by Mrs Garrick at the Garrick Jubilee of 1769. They are made from red leather and trimmed and partly lined with blue/green silk, and decorated with metal thread. Shoes are backless, with
A pair of shoes said to have belonged to Mrs. Garrick (1760-1770) (STRST : SBT 2001-50)

More than Mrs Garrick

Eva Garrick was born Eva Marie Veigel on the 29th February 1724 in Vienna. Daughter of a valet, Eva quickly rose to fame as a talented dancer and was often described as a great beauty. By the age of just 10, she was entertaining the Austrian and French aristocracy with her performances. Eva adopted the stage name of ‘La Violette’, and rose to fame in England in 1746 when she was contracted to dance with the Italian Opera Company at the King's Theatre in London.

The young and glamorous La Violette was not immune to the occasional fashion faux pas! In her first performance she caused a sensation by daring to wear a pair of black velvet breeches under her skirt. Wearing men’s black breeches was common practice for dancers in Austria, but it was unheard of in polite London society. Careful to preserve her reputation, next time Eva performed on the English stage she ensured she wore a more ‘ladylike’ pair of white drawers. 

As well as the British royal family, a smitten David Garrick was in the audience (admiring Eva’s black breeches) when she performed at the King’s Theatre. The young Eva was introduced to David, and the couple married on the 22nd June 1749. Eva retired from her dancing career to become a full time London socialite. She was well known for hosting high society parties to promote her husband’s theatrical career. But she could never give up dancing completely and was known to still don her dancing shoes whenever the opportunity presented itself. At the 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford-upon-Avon, for example, one guest recorded that ‘the most elegant minuet I ever shall see (was) danced by Mrs and Mr Garrick'. [1] 

Shoes Mrs Garrick

Walking a Mile in Eva’s Shoes

Being able to put yourself into the shoes of a historical figure is not always an easy feat (or should that be feet?), but with Eva Garrick the intrepid historian can quite literally dance a minuet in her high heels. Here at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, we are lucky enough to hold a rare, surviving pair of Eva’s shoes.

Eva’s shoes are now desperately fragile and incredibly precious, but when she wore them they would have been the height of high heel (and high society) fashion. The leather mules (thought to date from between 1760-1770 when Eva was in her late thirties) would have originally been a vivid red, with a clashing turquoise silk trim and lining. They were beautifully and vividly decorated, and you can still see the metal threads that entwine to make an embroidered pattern on the pointed toes.

The mules also have a distinctive curved heel that was considered incredibly stylish for both wealthy eighteenth century men and women. In fact, eighteenth century’s men’s shoes were often so elaborate they were indistinguishable from women’s! David Garrick himself was known to have a taste for fancy footwear that rivalled his wife’s. David is reported in the Garrick family papers to have owned a pair of diamond buckled shoes allegedly given to him by his mistress Peggy Woffington. Towards the end of his life he apparently regularly donned the diamond shoes, making Eva’s elaborate mules look modest in comparison! It was not until the nineteenth century that men's and women’s shoes began to differ significantly from one another. Men did continue to wear high heeled shoes though, but their heels rarely exceeded an inch in the 1800s!

It was not just Eva and David’s shared love of swanky stilettos that might have caused confusion in the Garrick shoe closet. Both the Garricks’ had two left feet - as did everyone in the eighteenth century! If you look carefully at Eva’s shoes, you will notice that there is no distinction between the left and the right shoe. Up until the mid-nineteenth century, all shoes were made ‘straight’ (no differentiation between the left and right shoe). It was not until 1850 that the need for comfort finally prevailed and foot-specific shoes started being produced.

Eva’s shoes give us a tiny glimpse into the life and times of Mrs Garrick. They indicate a woman with an eye for beauty who was not afraid to make a bold fashion statement, whether it is wearing black velvet breeches as a young dancer, or red heels in high society as a mature woman. Historians discussing the Garricks have always shone the spotlight on David, but this blog has returned Eva to centre stage, finally putting the shoe on the other foot. 

[1] The Gentlemen's Magazine, Sept. 1769, volume: 39, page: 422.

Shoes Mrs Garrick
A pair of shoes said to have belonged to Mrs. Garrick (1760-1770) (STRST : SBT 2001-50)

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