Friday, January 23, 2009

Shoes...A Short History

Shoes, it's something that we all wear. Now maybe there are some of you who don't really like to wear them, as is the case with my oldest child. He would prefer to wear flip flop sandals, and does on almost every occassion, regardless of the weather. So, I thought it might be interesting to take a journey back in time and learn a little history about shoes. I will go on record right now as saying that I am researching this, and it is not my own material. I will cite where I get my information so that if you intrepid explorers want to find out more you can. Okay, let's get started....

Prehistoric...The Ice Man Cometh

No one knows when the first shoes were worn for there are no records of such things so we can only make assumptions based on relics and primitive cave paintings. For sure, the development of some sort of covering was one of the first things primitive man did considering all of that outdoor activity such as hunting which required traipsing over jagged rocks and burning sand. Never mind the winter.

So the first shoes were developed quite early and they were most likely bag-like wrappings made of fur or skins. Cave Paintings (c.8000 BCE) show these foot bags and some even show images of shoes that look like fur boots. The earliest European shoes discovered were that of the Ice Man found in the Alps which date all the way back to 3300 BCE and were made of rawhide bearskin and woven plant fibers.

Egypt...Flip Flops & Pharoahs Can Leave One A Bit Peaked

Sandals are believed to be the first crafted footwear which is not surprising considering their simplicity. They were plain, practical and consisted of only two parts: The sole and the thong. The first “flip flop” so to speak. Except these first sandals weren’t made of colorful plastic or rubber obviously, they had to be made from whatever was available. Which wasn’t much.

The first sandals were basically made from a footprint in wet sand. Braided papyrus was then molded into the sole prints and then they were attached to the foot by palm fiber by way of the thong. But once the Egyptians learned to tan hide, sandals were made from leather and these early leather shoes were not made to accommodate right and left fittings, instead constructed exactly the same giving no allowance for the big toe or instep which I imagine made walking a bit awkward to say the least.

In ancient Egypt, the sandal was the sign of power and rank, because they were considered a luxury and not everyone could afford good ones. Which makes sense. But those Egyptians went so far as to allocate class by color. Gold and jeweled sandals were for the king and his court, pastels for dignitaries with red and yellow being the only colors allowed for the middle class. What about the poor and the slaves? They went barefoot, of course.

What's the difference between a common man's

sandal and the Pharoah's? The peak, the peak!

Greece...I'll have the simple life with feta cheese please
The Greeks were known for their sandals, right? They excelled at shoemaking and by 400 BC shoe and sandal making attained a high degree of sophistication and people’s obsession with footwear accelerated to a point where social “rules” came into play regarding them. Like shoes were only worn outdoors, the exact opposite of today’s no shirt, no shoes, no service policies. And certain shoes were for certain occupations. Soldiers wore this type, brides-to-be wore another, priest one type, actors another; each type designated and accounted for.

Oh, shoes, shoes, glorious shoes. How art thy the boundary between death and rebirth. How art thy the difference between darkness and light. Let thy body absorb the vital energies between the boundary of human and divine.

Rome...Veni, Vidi, Vici and the war machine

And while the Greeks were perfecting their elegance and beauty, Rome had their mind set on perfecting the conquest, which I think I already mentioned several times. The Roman Empire was ever growing and the soldiers uniform had to be practical and steadfast, shoes included. As a result, shoes were developed more durable and sturdy.

Although Roman shoes were more practical and less elegant than that of Greece they shared the same class distinction thing with the styles and colors. Red was restricted to the emperor only, while black and white was designated for senators and pale colors for the wealthy. And again the slaves and poor were barefooted or wore the plainest of sandals.
A Roman would never enter a house without removing his shoes so outdoor footwear was quickly replaced by banqueting slippers called soleae which were carried by a servant. Oh, shoes, shoes, glorious shoes. Thou art the meaning of life. Thou art thy favor of god. (which is why you slaves aren't allowed to wear them. Now get back to work!)

Let me know what you think. How would you have liked to wear flip flops that had a giant curl on them? We've made huge strides in the advancement of human footwear. Next week, we'll head to the Middle Ages and see what they were able to add to the developement of coverings for the feet.

I'm on facebook, sign me up as your friend, you'll find me under davetheshoe_guy.


  1. Flip Flops Are Gross. I don't think they should be considered shoes at all. :) Thats just my opinion.

  2. Well we now know that you wouldn't have made a good Egyptian huh? Everyone is entitled to their opinion....thanks for the comment.

  3. Do you know anything else about shoes worn in Ancient Greek times -specifically during the time of Alexander the Great? Were there different shoes depending on the weather?

    Thank you for your informative blog! I have found it extremely helpful! :)