Have you ever wondered about the lowly foot? Just think about the foot. It is delicately constructed with 26 bones, 19 muscles and 107 ligaments per foot. It travels an average of 65,000 miles in a lifetime. Ever think about how people for centuries have continually mistreated their feet with different kinds of footwear?
About the mid-14th century, Europeans came to love very narrow shoes as long as three feet in length. They originated in Poland and were supposed to keep the witches away. A chain was worn around the wearer’s neck to keep them in place. Toe length was regulated by law, and it seems that only the rich were permitted to wear the very long extended tips.
At the turn of the 15th century, wide shoes took the place of long shoes as the favorites to wear. Some even measured 12 inches across. Sensible Mary Tudor finally decreed that the width of a shoe could be no more than 6 inches.
Next came the chopine or platform shoe, which sometimes reached heights of 20 inches or more. In Hamlet, Shakespeare writes about a ladyship being closer to heaven in her chopine. The drawback was that the wearer could not move in them. The Venetians had invented them but also were the ones to ban them. They were hazardous to pregnant women who often fell while wearing them.
It was the 17th century and King Louis XIV who gave us high heels. He wanted to appear taller than he was. His courtiers soon copied the new style, and later ladies took the heels to new heights. With great pressure now put on the balls of the feet, Podiatrists were assured steady employment.
Some people, however, were more sensible about their footwear. The Hittites, who lived in rocky, mountainous areas, wore high shoes with curled up toes. The Egyptians, Babylonians, and Athenians wore open sandals. An even more practical solution to footwear was to wear shoes outside and go barefoot inside. The Greeks, Cretans, and Japanese shed their shoes upon entering the house.
The Romans were known for a variety of styles. The Emperor had special shoes as well as the senators and legionnaires. High open toed shoes were worn for dressy occasions. Women still wear them today and call them ‘mules’’. There were wooden soled shoes for sport and play and fancy beaded ones for ladies.
Of course all of these were for the rich. The peasants usually went barefoot or used whatever materials they could find. In Spain, shoes were woven from grasses and were called espadrilles. In Germany, a simple piece of leather with holes all around and then laced together was the common form of footwear. It became the emblem of the peasant revolt in the late Middle Ages. Another humble shoe, a wooden shoe called a ‘sabot’, was found to effectively cause great damage when thrown into machinery. Can you guess what word we get from this? Right —– sabotage.
We think of the moccasin as an American contribution, but archeologists have discovered that moccasin-like shoes were worn in northern Europe during the Bronze Age. But, we do have two kinds of footwear that owe their origins to America: Sneakers and Cowboy Boots. What would we wear without them?
There have been countless fads and so many must-haves for lots of us. I for one love shoes. I know it is silly, but I still love them…. Growing up in the fifties and sixties, I wore lots of pointy toed heels and, like many, have feet shaped a little bit differently. But, we were fashionable, weren’t we?
Oh, the things we have done to our feet…… There you have it…….. A bit about the history of shoes.
Have a nice week and God bless you.