The sad thing is ... we still don't know for sure why ladies figure skates are white (Just some theories and mythical stories) but I had to endure yet another bashing of my favorite OTB tights.
ETA My theory is that skates only came in one color due to cost issues and were black because it's practical and also went with male costumes which were often modeled after tuxes. But once female skaters started asking (and paying) for white skates, that color took off because in Western culture at that time brides and debutants wore white while grooms and gentleman wore black. IOW, it was a natural choice and once one person did it, it sweep the community making white skates profitable and therefore even more common as they could be offered for the same price as black skates.
"Cupcakes are bullshit. And everyone knows it. A cupcake is just a muffin with clown puke topping." -Charlie Brooker
I have heard that an important reason for white boots is that they make girls' feet look smaller. Sometimes, when you watch a girl, especially a gangly, say, ten year old, wearing black boots, her feet look like half her body mass.
Isn't there an exhibit on the history of figure skating boots and blades at the US Figure Skating Museum in Colorado Springs? Perhaps that could shed some light on when and why white skates came into existence. A call to the archivist there might answer this question.
This discussion made me curious, so I went looking in a few skating books I own, and I found the answer! In the book "Talking Figure Skating" by Beverly Smith (c 1997), there is a 15-page chapter on the art of bootmaking and how John Knebli, a shoemaker from Hungary, moved to Toronto, Canada and was commissioned to make handmade skating boots. Here is an excerpt from the book re: the origin of white boots (approx mid 1940s):
"As a young man with money in his pocket, Knebli had taken himself to ballets and shows and developed an artist's eye. Based on what he saw, he preferred to make white skates for female skaters. White skates "lift" a skater, making her look as if she floats on the ice, hardly touching it, moving with light, he said. A strip of white on the skirt area helps, too, for the same reason, he said."
"In Knebli's opinion, the now popular beige skates don't have the same effect. Knebli made no bones about it; he didn't like them for competitions."
Knebli also invented the low-cut boot style in the late 1950s, which he created for Canadian Bob Paul's pairs partner Barbara Wagner, who had very tiny feet. Female skaters had been wearing white boots, cut high up on the calf. When they won major competitions in his low-cut boots, other skaters from around the world wanted his boots. Knebli said "that the low-cut boots gave a better proportioned look to the body of a tiny woman." Since women no longer skated in long skirts, people looked at the whole body, not just the face.
Knebli died in 1997 at age 93. When the book came out in 1997, there were only about 15 "hand" bootmakers remaining in the world.
Yet more info about Sonia Henie wearing white skates:
I found some clips of her skating in 1936 where it looks like she is wearing white skates. And she certainly has white skates in all of her Hollywood movies.
So this precedes what Knebli did ...
An interesting thing.
I have a book about history of Figure Skating, with pictures of all the World and Olympic Champions in every category.
That's right that before Sonja Henie, ladies wore black boots.
But in Pairs, the first lady with white boots was after World War II. Before 1945, it seems the man and the lady wore black boots.
Charlotte Oelschlagel is pictured wearing light (can't tell if they are white or beige) in her ice ballet, which pre-dates Sonja's show career. I think as free skating became more popular skaters became interested in a more theatrical look.
Early free skating was influenced by ballet. Now it seems more influenced by gymnastics
I meant to say light skates