Friday, February 20, 2009

Shoes...A Short History Part 3

Last time we looked at the Middle Ages. Remember you can find this information and much more at .

Remember all that isolation in the Middle Ages? The independence? Well, times were changing. People started to discover one another. Feudal lords were gradually disappearing and new political powers rose. It was the era of discovery. Columbus discovered America and suddenly Spain was reaping the rewards. Merchants began to trade amongst each other introducing new textiles. There were political changes, industrial and commercial developments and an increase in wealth over all.


Slimmer shaped shoes eventually replaced the broad Duck’s Bill, most likely due to the fact that people got tired of waddling, first to a low cut style called escaffignins which were not quite so wide but puffed at the toes and then the heelless eschapins which were also slashed.

Right: St Lucy before the Judge.
1532. Lorenzo Lotto,
Oil on wood, Pinacoteca Civica, Iesi.

During the later half of the century, wealthy men started to wear shoes with tapered toes, keeping the ever popular slashing and pinking but with the added decoration of ribbon rosettes. And hello mule, welcome aboard!


Women basically wore the same type of shoes as the previous century with the added interest of a new crazy shoe fad that originated in Venice and quickly spread to the rest of Europe. Like the patten, the chopine was a type of over shoe with a raised platform sole meant to be worn over other shoes to give the wearer height. And similar to other shoe fashions, they fell pray to exaggeration whereas the soles got higher and higher until some were up to thirty inches. Walking on such tall shoes would be like walking on stilts except you had nothing to hold on to, but women wore them anyway requiring a maid or cane to help them walk. Oddly enough, the church approved of Chopines but for all the wrong reasons. Chopines impeded movement and movement was required for such sin producing activities such as dancing. And if you can’t move, you can’t dance. Everyone is happy (or at least the Church was.) But they were eventually outlawed in Venice after a number of women miscarried after falling off their shoes.During Elizabeth’s reign, high heels and pumps made their first appearance. The Italian pantofle and the Venetian heeled slipper replaced those pesky fat toed escaffignons so popular during the previous era.
Well there it is, the 1500's and what that period of history brought to us for footwear. It's funny how the footwear has played such an evident role in causing the church to be happy or sad...and we thought that the 21st Century was too illicit...perhaps not as much as we thought.
Check back with me next week when we look at the 1600's, I'm sure it will be an interesting time period as well I'm on the web at &
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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Shoes...A Short History Part 2

Last time we went from the prehestoric man to the time of the Romans. In this episode, we will look at the Middle Ages and what they had to offer us in the way of footwear. And again, remember I am getting this from the website


When it comes to shoes there’s going to be a bit of disappointment. All that sophistication developed by the Greeks and Romans got lost somewhere along the line. Somehow, some way, suddenly no one had a clue.

Thank heaven for the turned shoe, the awakening of the shoe development world, the epiphany of footwear. Turned shoes were sewn inside out then turned right side out, something never thought of prior so it was quite the innovation of the day.

Some odd shoe fashions developed in the middle ages. One being the Poulaine or Crakow shoe which began to appear in western Europe in the 12 century. Rumor has it that they were developed and popularized by Count Fuld of Anjou who needed to cover up some kind of deformity but it is more likely a style adopted by the Crusaders who were influenced by the traditional pointed toed footwear found in the near/middle east. So again we are back to the pointed toes.
Pointed toes are hardly odd, but the fact that they became hugely exaggerated is. The toe gradually became longer and longer to the point of absurdity for some were so long it was difficult to walk. Some even attached small bells to the end to indicate they were interested in a little flirtation. Bells. Flirtation. Surely you saw the connection? Maybe that’s where the whole “footsie” thing started?
Of course the church tried to ban poulaine shoes spouting their “apparent indecent phallic symbolism” but the fad continued well into the next century. However, towards the middle of the 14th century, people started to wear soled hose which did away with the need for shoes altogether. Now why would anyone want to do that?

The pointed toe fad disappeared around 1460-70 being suddenly replaced by a new shoe fad called Duck’s Bill shoes (also called Bear’s Claw) during the reign of Francois I. Duck’s Bill shoes were made of silk, brocade or velvet and were heavily padded, puffed and embroidered with the upper part slashed so that colored hose showed through.

Colored hose for men were all the rage and a slashed shoe such as this was the ideal way to display them to the utmost. But again exaggeration took hold and the shoe became broader and broader in the toe until eventually some measured up to twelve inches in width making the wearer waddle. Apparently, it was quite fashionable to waddle around with big fat floppy clown shoes.
None of the shoes stated above were very good for snow or muck or the average dirty street so another type of shoe was developed called the Patten. Pattens were shoes to be worn over other shoes which raised the feet up over the muck and gunk. They consisted of a very thick sole made of wood or leather with leather straps that you stuck your feet into. The first clogs were also developed around this time which was probably a variation of pattens of some sort.

So there you have the Middle Ages and what they brought to the footwear industry. Interesting that our forefathers may have started some things that we never thought of huh? Check back later when we will venture into the 1500's and see what that age gave us.

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