The Practical Burial Footwear Company provided a variety of fashionable shoes designed to fit the rigor mortis deformed feet of the deceased.
Women’s pink velvet pumps from the Practical Burial Footwear Company
Nothing says “practical” like spending eternity in a pair of pink velvet pumps. In the mid-20th century the Practical Burial Footwear Company of Columbus, Ohio, revolutionized the funeral industry with their line of stylish (yet practical) shoes for the deceased. Even in death, after all, it is important that your shoes represent your social and economic status, right?
In the book The American Way of Death, author Jessica Mitford notes a description from the company’s catalog for their Fit-a-Fut Oxford: “The No. 280 reflects character and station in life. It is superb in styling and provides a formal reflection of successful living.”
While style is certainly important when you’re six feet under, these shoes offered practical benefits for mortuary professionals, as well. A patent for a burial shoe last filed by the company in 1940 details the unique problems encountered while trying to put shoes on a dead person:
Due to natural causes over which the mortician has no control, the shape of the corpse’s foot is substantially distorted, as compared with the normal foot of a live person. After death, the toes and the forward portion of the foot become drawn down from rigor mortis or other causes, and no entirely satisfactory way has been found to correct this deformation of the foot.
As described by another patent for stretchy burial slippers, this deformation of the feet means that an undertaker would need to keep a large number of shoes in stock at all times. Also, he would soil many trying to find a fitting pair, each of which would have to be discarded. Undertakers often cut shirts and jackets up the back to make it easier to dress a body, so why not do the same thing for shoes? The Practical Burial Footwear Company decided to put laces in the back of the shoes. It was a feature that, when combined with their patented downward-sloping soles to accommodate the deformed foot, meant a guaranteed fit every time.
If you were looking for some matching undergarments to go with those great burial shoes, the company also had a women’s lingerie department.