Let’s Bring Back Venetian Flats & Mules

I’m not usually one to adopt the latest trends — I never understood what people saw in cold shoulder tops — but one that appeared several years ago has stuck with me and I think it deserves “timeless” status.

I remember walking into a shoe store probably sometime around 2013 to see that Venetian flats were all the rage.

Now, of course, I had no idea that these shoes had anything to do with Italy or Venice when I first saw them — they just reminded me of the types of shoes I had seen in fairytale illustrations and decadent costume dramas. Who knew that something so frankly historical could make it back into our modern-day wardrobe?

In case you don’t know, Venetian flats look like a combination between loafers and slippers which have an elegant lip cut out as the vamp. The toes are usually pointed. Venetian mules are very similar, but with a small heel, and are usually backless. In either iteration, they look incredibly classy, and add instant polish and a hint of gravity to any casual outfit.

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Way back when, I ended up purchasing a blue leather pair that I wore for years. As I begin to think about my spring wardrobe, and assessing my situation re: flats, I might invest in a new pair of Venetians. I think their glamor and taste should boost them out of the category of short-lived trends and into the canon of timeless pieces.

Another versatile and traditional staple that every classic woman should own!

Where Did They Come From?

Despite now being called “Venetian” flats, these shoes actually have their origin in a region of northeast Italy called Friuli. And while most specimens of them now appear elegant or even haute couture, but they were once the simplest of shoes notable for being made out of recycled materials.

These “furlanes,” as they were called, were traditionally made out leftover fabric by wives in the region. Soles were originally made of reinforced cloth, but in the 20th century, recycled rubber came to be used.

Italian Red Cross nurses gathered donations of cloth, velvet, and scrap rubber during WWII to provide unoccupied patients in military hospitals with the task of making furlanes.

The shoes made their way to Venice, where they were sold on the Rialto Bridge, and they became part of the iconic gondolier’s uniform — gondoliers liked them because their rubber soles were nonslip and soft enough not to ruin their gondolas’ paint.

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Italian noblewomen wore heeled and embroidered variations of the shoe, it has been adapted into the classic men’s “smoking slipper,” and in the 21st century, sophisticated furlanes have been featured in many designer collections.

How to Wear Them?

Venetian flats and mules have an air of formality, but it’s my opinion that they look best when adding polish to an otherwise casual outfit. Unless they’ve really got glitz, they still appear a bit like fancy slippers, and so I wouldn’t necessarily wear them with anything above business casual.

For example, they provide a delightful contrast with jeans:

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Easy enough.

Here, they also provide a great finish to two edgy outfits with vintage flair:

Amy Willerton (left) is shaking up an ’80s inspired ensemble with gold Venetian flats, and Kate Upton (right) is adding a bit of sophistication to a rockabilly-influenced ensemble with black leather flats.

Bonus points to Amy for rocking one of my favorites, the Breton stripe!

Both of these ladies look fantastic with the waist-belted pedal pushers showing off their pretty shoes, and I’ve always been a sucker for classic black and a simple leather jacket.

Would you wear either of these looks? Let me know in the comments!

Where to Find Them?

Venetian-style shoes are available all over — from more mainstream American brands to artisan European shoemakers. Here are a few I’d recommend:

Birdies and Rothy’s are both well-known and well-advertised (at least in the US) and offer Venetian-style flats. Birdies are known for being stylish and elegant yet incredibly comfortable (like real slippers!), and Rothy’s puts a sustainable spin on these elements (made from recycled materials).

Frye has been around since 1863 and offers gorgeous, genuine leather flats and mules that will solidify any casual outfit. More of an investment than Birdies and Rothy’s, but with the right care, long lasting.

Gondos offers simple, very slipper-y looking, but most authentic furlanes in the Italian style. Handmade in Italy.

Chatelles puts a French spin on the Italian look. Favored by celebrities like Lily James and 100% European handmade.

And finally, the grandaddy of all slipper-y flats — Stubbs and Wooton. These are the finest “bedroom slippers” ever to appear on the red carpet, and they’re an investment, but truly classic footwear. Can’t go wrong here.

As always, I’m absolutely fascinated by fashion items that have a rich and traditional history but that still lend a certain je ne sais quoi to contemporary outfits. Venetian-style shoes — flats and mules — fit that bill marvelously.

Here’s to looking like a duchess in blue jeans — and here’s to breaking 60 degrees today, we’re more than ready to welcome spring. 🌷

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