Today, the Bata Shoe Museum announces its latest large-scale exhibition, Dressed to Impress: Footwear and Consumerism, in the 1980s. The historical retrospective opens to the public on November 1, 2023, and remains open until March 16, 2025. This is the first exhibition curated by Nishi Bassi, Curator and Exhibitions Project Manager, at the Bata Shoe Museum. The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication to be released in spring 2024.
The global fashion market was valued at 1.53 trillion U.S. dollars in 2022. To understand today’s consumer habits, the Bata Shoe Museum examines consumerism and self-expression by surveying a decade famous for its excess, the 1980s.
“The 1980s was a fascinating decade, where personal style was closely linked to the pursuit of success,” says Bata Shoe Museum Nishi Bassi, Curator and Exhibitions Manager. “This exhibition explores some of the biggest trends and brands of the decade and how advertising encouraged consumption. Visitors are invited to the exhibition to experience joyful nostalgia and think critically about how this decade continues to influence today’s consumer habits.”
Culturally, the 1980s were defined by conservative politics, globalization, and technological innovation. Self-improvement and the pursuit of individual success were strongly encouraged, and fashion was promoted to achieve and flaunt a successful career, a desirable body, and an enviable lifestyle. Shopping malls, mail-order catalogues, and advertisements in film, television, and music videos encouraged materialism and fed a generation of consumers who were dressing to impress.
The Bata Shoe Museum will transform the gallery space into a 1980s-inspired shopping mall, taking visitors back in time to experience the full effect of the decade.
Dressed to Impress: Footwear and Consumerism in the 1980s features over 80 pairs of shoes spanning the decade and organized into six sections: Dressed for Success; Work Hard, Play Hard; Let’s Get Physical; Mainstream Rebels; Pump it Up; and Designer Highlights. Here are a few of the top highlights.
- NIKE AIR JORDAN Is: By the end of the 1980s, Nike was one of the most successful producers of athletic footwear. Much of its success can be attributed to its new focus on basketball shoes and the signing of rookie Michael Jordan to the brand in 1984.
- JOHN FLUEVOG WINKLEPICKERS: Canadian shoe designer John Fluevog released this pair of winklepickers, a type of footwear popular with Goth consumers, in the 1980s. The goth style was on the rise as musicians like Siouxsie Sioux and the Cure helped set the sound and style for the genre.
- SUSAN BENNIS/WARREN EDWARDS ‘POWER’ PUMPS: New York-based designers Susan Bennis and Warren Edwards created this pair of show-stopping pumps. Their limited-edition styles were beloved by glamourous celebrities such as Cher and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis throughout the 1980s. The comic-book-like font of the ‘Pop’ and ‘Power’ is reminiscent of pop art, which had a revival in the early decade.
- GUCCI LOAFERS: The Gucci horsebit loafer has remained a classic menswear item since its invention in the 1950s. It was associated with an elite, wealthy consumer, as signified by the fine craftsmanship and equestrian-referencing metal snaffles across the vamps. These leather slip-ons were a popular choice among executives in the 1980s. By the early 2010s, they had earned the nickname “deal sleds” and were worn by ambitious bankers hoping to “close a deal.”
- REEBOK FREESTYLE HI: Aerobics was one of the fastest-growing forms of exercise in the 1980s, especially among women. Sneakers with soft leather uppers were popular for this activity, and brands sought to capitalize on this trend. Reebok was the most successful, with the debut of their Freestyle in 1982. The original model was a high-top with two Velcro straps and glove leather uppers designed for flexibility. They were first released in white, but many bright colours quickly followed. The Freestyle became one of Reebok’s best sellers, turning it into one of the most profitable producers of athletic footwear in this decade.
Exhibition Related Programming
Throughout the exhibition run, the Bata Shoe Museum will host various events suitable for all ages. In 2024, the museum will launch an 80s classic film series and more 80s-inspired workshops, talks, and panel discussions. To attend the free exhibition program, please register online at batashoemuseum.ca/events. 2023 highlights include:
- November 4th and 5th – Free Community Weekend, including 1980s-inspired drop-in activities for the whole family, such as Hands-on History, Totally 80s Shoebox Bingo, 80s Dance Workshop, and crafts for all ages.
- November 14th – The first of a monthly 80s theme trivia series kicks off.
- November 30th – Vinyl Record Paint Night suitable for all skill levels.
The Bata Shoe Museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The BSM is pleased to offer free general admission every Sunday.