The word shoe (scoe) is Anglo-Saxon, meaning 'to cover furtively,’ and according to Rossi (1993) this is not in a protective sense but rather to hide an erogenous zone. Body parts play a key role in non verbal communication and may be decoded as cortically meaningful (Givens, 2002). Simply put shoes outwardly represent a non-verbal sign of gender, presence, and personality. According to Sonja Bata (founder of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto), "Shoes hold the key to human identity." They appear unparalleled in their ability to reveal the personality of the wearer. Many believe this is due to the encoded messages they contain which are recognised by our primal subconscious. Where this is most obvious perhaps is related to shoe choice and our psycho-sexual make up and personality. Pond, reminds us shoes are totems of disembodied lust, in some cases so strong as to magically transform us into beautiful, handsome, confident, or heroic persons. They appear true talisman and worthy of a fetishism. Today footwear communicates general values, personality traits, roles and goals. Our psychological, cultural and expression of our spirit are all well served by our footwear. They influence the way we think, feel, act as well as react to others, or so we are told? The author attempts to decipher the meaning of shoes and how they potentially reflect the personality of the wearer. This should not however, be seen as a precise science but merely an amusing illumination.
With the exception of hands and faces, clothing has an important social significance which tells much about the personality of the wearer. When observing strangers the sight of clothes provided the safest distance to judge friend or foe, with more intimate relationships dependent upon the finer facial features, body gestures and speech play. Seems clothing serves three more functions: decoration, modesty and protection. Whilst the latter may appear the most logical it is not supported by history (both ancient and modern). Fig leaf mentality may explain why we have covered up, but by far the major reason for clothing, is decoration. The essential purpose of decoration was to beautify bodily appearance in order to attract admiring glances from others thus fortify self-esteem. Modesty, on the other hand, makes us hide body parts in an attempt to refrain from drawing the attention of others. When decoration and modesty are pitted together this can provide a psychological conflict resulting in a clothing neurosis. The degree of harmony or compromise between these conflicting interests may be clearly seen in shoes.
Does that mean feet are sex organs? Sadly no, but they do exhibit unique features which separate us from all other beings. We have a weight bearing heel, inside arch, and big toe which enabled the species to develop an upright stance and maintain it throughout the waking day. Sigmund Freud argued whatever the cause of walking the consequence was eye sight was perfected over the other senses. Bi-pedal gait forged distinguished buttocks (another human trait), bosoms; legs, thighs, tummies, hips and the frontal display of genitalia. We remain the only species on the planet who can copulate standing vertical and facing each other. Feet are extremely well supplied by nerve pathways which transmit messages to multiple and diverse areas of the brain, including the sensory parietal lobe. By coincidence the sensory centre for feet lies adjacent to the sensory nerves of the genitalia. This may explain, why for some people, neural print-through causes their feet to become sexually expressive.
According to Harrold & Legg (1986) long before shoes became costume for all they formed a major part of ritual. From the beginning, human decoration celebrated procreation demonstratively directing the observer’s attention to gender. The theory of Displacement of Effect supports this and upholds when we covered up, the head and feet became gender symbols. Subsequently the greatest motive for wearing clothes was sexual. Not in the fig leaf sense (sinful) but to further enhance the attractiveness of the wearer in order to procreate the species. Another common use of decoration in primitive society was the display of trophies. People decorated and scarified their body to protect themselves from imaginary evil spirits. In primitive culture the victor carried mementos of the vanquished which would include their testicles. Strength and courage of the hunted animals were much admired by hunters and gatherers who wore hides in the hope to harness these attributes. This may well account why shoes were made from fish and animal skins. But it took until the technology was available for leathers to be tanned and treated before shoes could have a protective function. Once this took place the need to decorate the shoe for luck became a subtle craft. We see the remnants of this in modern shoes, such as brogue patterns; or tassels (testicles) on loafers. Carrying lucky talisman within the shoes has a long history which continues to this day with the Penny Loafer.
Rank, occupation and wealth were also encoded into types of clothing. Unshod feet in Roman times was the mark of a slave or woman; only male citizens of the city had the right to wear sandals. Military station was depicted by the height of boot worn by the soldier and in Mediterranean society; elevated sandals were worn by sex workers. Remarkably basic shoe design remains unchanged from antiquity.
Fashionable footwear was always the prerogative of the ruling classes and definitely the preserve of men. This all started to change in the thirteenth century when returning Crusaders brought back with them the concept of chivalry. Europeans embraced the concept of ideal beauty through the medium of visual arts and literature and womens’costume began a reflective change. International trade had led to the growth of towns and enrichment of the Italian mercantile classes with a resulting rich bourgeoisie. The women of the nouveaux riche wanted to emulate the privileges of nobility and became focused on perfecting the female body through the medium of sumptuous clothing.
According to Belk (2001) as consumers we appear to have an innate preference for products that not only function well, but also express themselves. Males are often more daring and naughty than their female counterparts in what they choose to wear. One theory why men use heavier apparel to create illusionary effects of masculinity and virility is because they have fewer erogenous qualities. Women on the other hand use less to highlight their natural erogenous features. According to the Non Verbal Dictionary female footwear shows personality and uniqueness (I am someone special). Male Footwear is part of a uniform to mark membership in a group (I am a cowboy). Footwear suggests connection with terra firma "both feet on the ground". An elevated heel implies the ability to defy the Earth's gravity whereas four wheel drive shoes send quite a different message.
According to the Non Verbal Dictionary, women's shoes can be classified into three general groups. Revealing shoes are 'bare all' shoes with the toes, heel, ankle and top of the foot all visible and calling attention to the frailty of the small delicate foot. Concealing shoes transmit a suggestive erotic message of tight containment. Both proclaim femininity, individuality and sexual allure. High heels make the frame appear more curvatious with bosoms and buttocks protruding and less accentuation on the waist. Increased height may appeal to the height challenged as well as giving an outward appearance of a smaller foot. To the less well endowed, added height from heels encourages an attractive boyish appearance, so enjoyed by the ancient Egyptians. Masking shoes, the third category, down plays personality by discouraging its notice. Often worn with socks, sensible shoes tend to be boxy, sturdy and squared off. Gender specific footgear for men fall into three categories: dominant, submissive or neutral. Dominant shoes are robust, wide, thick soled and heavy. Submissive shoes are narrow, lightweight thin soles, with tapering toes. Gracile to suggest vulnerability with a deliberate down play of foot's size and bluntness. The neutral shoe is fashionably bland and introverted. It is neither wide nor narrow, neither pointed nor blunt. The sole is neither thick nor thin, nor is the shoe obviously masculine or feminine. Neutral shoes project non-rebellious non-dominant anti-corporate mood in the work place.
Shoes can be divided into different design lines, which suit certain types of feet. The Classic line caters for the average foot with its emphasis on refinement, elegance and high fashion. These shoes are sleek, slightly chunky with smooth circle or geometric shapes but no angles. The Dramatic line is more suited to the narrow foot with its trim sleek and elegant lines and emphasis on angular shapes. Small feet are highlighted in the Romantic line with soft flowing lines that showcase foot contours. Detailed but lavish footwear. Moderate to large feet are often best in natural lines which are shoes sometimes chunky and always funky. The Gamin line favours moderate to narrow feet. Sharp, straight and crisp footwear designed in geometric and asymmetrical shapes, worn in colourful leathers and often with dark hosiery (sheer). According to Rossi (1993), there are eight basic styles i.e. the sandal, the monk, the moccasin, the mule, the clog, the pump, the boot and the lacing shoe.
Certainly one of the oldest and simplest forms of foot covering which date back many thousands of years. Stone Age sandals were a spontaneous invention, which helped protect vulnerable feet from alien environments. Later the spread of trade among Mediterranean countries accounts why sandals became associated with affluence but it took until the Romans before they became robust footwear, worn by the army. The trade of sandal making was almost lost after the Fall of the Roman Empire and only rediscovered in the early twentieth century when the heeled sandal was associated with Hollywood’s sirens. Now considered the sexiest shoe women can wear, the 'venez y voir' or come hither look is further enhanced with backless or slings back designs. All in an endeavour to catch 'back interest', that is admiring glances from suitable suitors whose eyes are transfixed on the beauty even after she has passed by. Sexy sandals are subtly erotic whereas bitchy sandals are flagrantly sexual (Jayne Mansfield). Women wearing the former are trying to convey a message, which says they want to be noticed and admired as feminine and sensuous women. According to Eisman (2002), today's male thong wearers may appear crude but beneath this veneer lurks a gentle, wounded soul. Dreamers and hopeless romantics choose Jesus sandals to represent their soulful and gentle personalities. Rough and ready types wear sport sandals similar in the way suburban dwellers drive four wheel vehicles. New Age self assured types exude their inner comfort by choosing reflexology sandals.
The monk refers to the wide strap across the instep, which is attached to a buckle. The shoe was worn originally by Alpine monks in the 15th century and later caught a fashion following when ornate buckles took on the guise of shoe jewellery. Wearing them was a mark of prosperity and once again the prerogative of men. After the French Revolution, highly decorated shoes indicated social status and buckles soon became passé as the fashion for boots took over. Buckles meantime became popular with women's shoes. Today they survive in the most mundane form as fastenings for sandals and casual shoes worn by men and children. The monk style of shoe remains a male preserve and is worn by non conventional types assured in their mind their alternative retaining medium is an able match to the more predicable lacing persona. Men who wear peacock buckles are less sexually aggressive, more flamboyant, brazen, and ostentatious. Insecure types with a driving need for personality identity. However don't be fooled the flash exterior is superficial and under the surface lies a soft caring side to their nature, according to Eisman (2002).
By far the oldest shoe, dating back 15,000 years. Mongol tribes who migrated across the Bearing Straight 9 (circa 30,000 BCE) probably wore a simple wrap around hide held on with rawhide thongs. More associated with tribes of North American Indians who lived on the Ottawa River near the northern tributaries of the St. Lawrence River moccasins were stylised with fringes and coloured beads. Each tribe had their own distinctive style and decoration, much of which would depict rank and occupation. Today moccasin shoes usually describe imitation moccasins, which had their origins in Norway. The Norwegian Peasant Slip-on (or weejun) was first imported to the US by tourists in the 1930s. When Gucci made leather loafers in refined calfskin with a metal snaffle across the instep this had instant appeal. Slick, successful sophisticates flocked to wear them. The Rolls Royce of shoes celebrated craftsmanship, grooming and conformity but with just a hint of excitement. This was often expressed latently in the snaffle design. A two tassel ornamentation was common and is thought the represent symbolic testicles found in many native customs. A gold chain had obvious sado masochistic association and would be worn by domineering types. Soon loafers were available in spectator style (two colours) and by the 50s, Penny Loafers became all the rage with the campus based Ivy Leaguers of the US. Here the testicles were replaced with a lucky penny, which was incorporated in the snaffle. Popular with Hooray Henries of the time, the shoes were full of potential and excitement, in truth of course the shoe style represented no change and security rather than adventure, hence the lucky penny. When low vamp loafers were designed for females and made in soft kid leather they guaranteed successful cross over. College kids wore suede loafers, which was the source of inspiration for blue suede shoes. Imitation moccasins are sensuous shoes, typified by the stylised flair, slightly feminine but overtly masculine, these shoes are preferred by the lounge lizard who is both vain and domineering. Charmers with intoxicating personality the shoe's exaggerated proportions and adornments give a clue to the wearer's true persona. On the positive side moccasin wearers value quality over trends and exude a relaxed elegance that is timeless and very alluring. These people are confident and comfortable to be with. They enjoy looking cool and revel in the good life. Beware bad lots who are attracted to square toed loafers these fellows suffer illusions of grandeur are often brash and certainly preoccupied with cash. Loafers for women are conservative or neuter shoes i.e. neither sex-attractive nor sex-distractive. Neuter shoes reflect a quiescent or semi-active libido preferred by middle aged married women.
Clogs describe wooden soled shoes traditionally worn by peasants and more recently associated with Scandinavia. Two basic types are the sabot (or wooden shoe) and the more fashionable clog (wooden soled shoe with a leather upper). Clog wearers are considered complex and intriguing characters usually cool types with a strange and difficult past that will leave you better for knowing him. One clog devotee is Brian May of Queen. Once a cloggie then always a cloggie, or so it seems. Many men are turned onto clogs by seeing well turned ladies wearing them. Some are even attracted to the noise the clog makes. Hence there are a lot of closet clog wearers out there.
Originally these were shoes with wrap around leggings and date back approximately 4.5thousand years. Later when the leather leggings resembled a bucket, the French called then 'butt' meaning water bucket. These evolved in boute and finally boot. Over the centuries boots have undergone many changes and been gendered for their troubles. Boots as a fashion invariably follow war and represent coping with threat. Certainly the most contrived style is cowboy boots which have little to do with real Wild West and more to do with urban macho wannabes. The cowboy boot invokes heroic myth of the west, which promulgates rugged individualism, independence, quiet strength, and alienation from civilisation. According to the Non Verbal Dictionary they are a sign of authority and suggest strength by adding stature and stability. A boot's snug contact with pressure sensitive Pacinian corpuscles of the lower leg provides tactile reassurance while supporting the long tendons that run to the feet. Boots stabilise the ankle. Research has shown women find men in cowboy boots more attractive. Highly decorated boots express the gentler feminine side of the narcissistic wearer who may be rather superficial but always entertaining, if only for a short time. Boots with pointed toes indicate intense ambition. Whilst the suave and sophisticated sharpie may give out assured confidence and good humour that is as much as you are likely to get from them. The fashion for sharp toes can be traced to the resurgence of paganism and in particular a celebration of Pryapus. Men challenged by the absence of height prefer high heels. Wearers of biker's boots appear control freaks. No surprise there. This who sport elasticised boots may be free spirits who enjoy the simple comforts in life. Modern guys prefer the Yellow Suede, Hiking Boots, suppressed machismo, emaciated by modern day domesticity. Most will lack adventure in their lives but have four wheel boots to show they are ready (if not always willing). Doc Martens lacing boots are the mark of natural loners who may not seek close relationships. Many have leadership qualities with total commitment to passionate causes. The physiological benefits of boots may give the feeling of security on the street. According to Australian journalist, Jane Fraser, Ugg boot (sheepskin boot) is to the foot what Vegemite is to the tongue, what maroon is to a Queenslander, what 'haitch' is to a Catholic. What she might be surprised to learn is elsewhere in the global village creative souls designed for success but tired of convention, wear Ugg Boots. This makes them a personality, which is both unpredictable and capable of the unexpected. The fashion boot without doubt has given liberated women freedom style and support. Not to mention a lot of pleasure to men.
Pumps (Court Shoes)
The plain seamless pump started life as a heel-less shoe worn indoors. It was a slip on which did not extend beyond or above the vamp and quarter top lines, held onto the foot without a fastening, although later a wrap around strap like a ballet slipper was used. In the UK the pump was known as a court shoe. By the nineteenth century the slip on pump had become sophisticated worn by both men and women. A low front pump deliberately tantalised by exposing suggestive toe cleavage. When dandy Count D'Orsay introduced a pump style which was low cut on the sides to expose the curve of the long arch and the sinuous movements of the foot the shoe took on extra sensual components. The sensual trifecta was completed with the addition of higher heels. By the thirties daytime shoes were neat and feminine-looking with oval toes and straight, high heels. The classic court shoe was an everyday basic but the new look slender heeled sandals with ankle and T straps in reptile skins, soft kid, and suede and satin were very much the desire of most. Shoes were immaculately presented matt fabrics were always well brushed and leather buffed to a high gloss. Strappy designs were more evident in the more elegant evening shoes. The straps were sometimes plaited or made of satin ribbon and crossed over like ballet pumps. Other styles were dotted with glitter and fastened with fancy gold, silver or diamante buckles. The sides and heels of the shoes were sometimes decorated with tiny gold flecks or diamante tips. Gold and silver 'Charleston' sandals were very popular and a ready accessory for eveningwear. Other shoes were covered with fabric to match a particular dress; alternatively dresses in plain velvet satin or chiffon were worn with patterned shoes, making pretty high-heeled sandals covered in eye-catching, glittering brocade. Hollywood loved two types of women's shoes i.e. the high heeled pump which always looked glamorous despite its inappropriateness to the many action scenes the heroines were depicted wearing them; and the thin strappy sandal as worn by Hayworth, Garbo and Davis represented a willing partner to seduction.
Screen beauties rarely forsook these stereotypical props and when they did it became a memorable event. Being filmed in anything else could only add further charm to their existing persona.
The origins of heeled shoes probably came from shepherds tending their flocks on steep mountainous country in Pre Hellenic Times. As trade spread across the Mediterranean the elevated sandal became a fashion vogue for rich and powerful men. Later elevated shoes were worn by actors and streetwalkers. The fashion heel for women ironically came in the sixteenth century after a short fling with platform shoes. Chopines were worn by Venetian women of substance both to celebrate the leg as well as (and probably more importantly) to display the sumptuous clothing of the times. Reported falls (or miscarriage) in pregnant women meant the platform was banned but cleaver shoemakers cored out the section of the platform corresponding to the ball of the foot. Ironically by stabilising the foot they created the first orthopaedic footwear or high-heeled shoe. Despite this the heeled shoe we know today could not have been made in the past, prior to developed lasting techniques used for mass production at the turn of the 19th century. Once heeled shoes became passé for fashionable women the style was still enjoyed by female sex workers, even after the Revolution. So popular was the style for heels among sex workers the French girls that immigrated to the US continued to wear them much to the delight of full blooded all American Males. Soon after the first US heel factory was opened. With the introduction of Hollywood came the need to depict visually heroes and villains, clothing took on a special meaning especially with improved cinema photography and the full body shot. Clothing stereo types included shoes where the heeled sandal represents the modern-day, Jezebel. This image was forever frozen with the introduction of the stiletto in the early fifties, which happened to correspond for many with the beginnings of a post war permissive age. High heels are seen as a rite of passage from girl to women. Blisters and sprains worn with pride in a similar manner to nickel allergies.
Lacing shoes were introduced in the seventeenth century in England. At first they were thought to be rather effeminate but later took a fashion hold when fops at Oxford University wore them in the eighteenth century. The Oxford shoe became a foot corset designed to highlight the curves of men's feet. Worn tight to the foot the shoes were smaller than the foot and always with a heel. This meant the man minced which became accepted norm for real me. Corn cutting became a popular service during this time. It took until the nineteenth century before the fashion crossed the Atlantic and came with English invasion. This movement would influence adult costume for the next half a century. To accommodate broader feet Bluchers were adopted and lacing shoes become synonymous with conservative dress attire for both men and women. Patent Leather was developed in the thirties as a waterproof material for shoes. Now solid dependable types, stalwarts of community, wore lacing shoes. Not without its irony and despite their origins lacing shoes are classified as eunuch shoe for men, and sexless or comfortable footwear for women. The later is a euphemism for lesbianism. According to Rossi people who wear lacing shoes wish to voluntarily withdraw from natural concerns of sexual attraction e.g. funeral directors, paramedics, and nurses. Non conformists may wear brogue patterns or two-tone uppers indicating a psychosexual masquerade with the masculine costume smothering the peacock inside. Jack Kennedy was a man who preferred high fashion in footwear but conformed for his public image. Neuter shoes are neither sexy nor sexless neither fashionable nor non-fashionable. They exhibit a glimmer of promise at first inspection, but on a closer look are found wanting, i.e. a eunuch like quality. A conservative fashion with medium to low heel, semi-rounded toe, closed rather than open toe box. The colour subdued, the materials conventional and the ornamentation, if any, minimal. Passive styles for psychosexually passive people (Rossi, 1993).
The sandshoe which is a canvas Oxford was an invention of the 19th century and although had humble beginnings without doubt heralded the beginning of the most popular footwear of existence. Middle class preoccupation with sport and recreation meant sport kits included dedicated sports shoes. BY the middle of the 20th century they became the icons of youth. Lacing shoes with attitude have become inseparable from youthful rebellion. Sport shoes are now perceived an essential part of ritual garb associated with both the best of being human as well as its darker side. From the time Jimmy Dean endorsed coolness, when he was photographed wearing tennis sneakers to MC Hammer rapped praise on his Adidas sneakers, the sporting Oxford has ruled supreme. People who wear sneakers are not too concerned with their looks but do prize comfort and security over anything else. Wearers of designer trainers are probably ambitious, motivated and driven in all their endeavours. Their materialistic outlook and competitive nature however puts them under enormous internal pressures. The carefree casual appearance of those wearing bowling shoes (a leather top hybred) belies a passionate conversationalist who is intensely romantic. These people are often well travelled and strongly opinionated. Traditionalists too self-conscious to be really cool, wear running shoes. These people are not part of the 'in crowd' but would dearly love to be. Large size, bold contrasts, and loud colours suggest youth and physical fitness. Often more theoretical than actual. Identification with team
Mules or slip shoes started as heelless, quarterless slippers worn in Elizabethan times. Later they became associated with the boudoir and are the ancestors of bedroom slippers, and worn by women of distinction. Richly endowed with silk and velvet these were often heavily bejewelled or highly decorated. During the nineteenth century when Manet's painting of Olympia was revealed to the public it caused a riot. The reclining courtesan was seen playfully holding her foot half in and out of her mules. The implications were obvious to all. The shoe has enjoyed a recent renaissance with Ath Leisure and has become more popular in the US, post '11/09'. Realisation the shoe could be a weapon, combined with widely broadcast images of discarded shoes left behind as people tried to escape falling masonry had a major impact. Increased security associated with travel, especially by air, has given the mule a new lease of life. The shoe is worn by pragmatists, people who enjoy comfort as well as fashion.
Sensible shoes are considered sexless, stripped of illusion and sexual promise. Neither do they seek sexual communication, nor do they receive any. They are shoes without personality and often worn through necessity. Sensible shoes are sterelotypically seen in service personnel, and might be a term used to describe orthopaedic footwear. Sensible footwear as a description first appeared in the thirties and was used to describe anti-fashion footwear which incorporated styles deemed inappropriate for a Western World preoccupied with Physical Culture. Today the term 'sensible shoes' is often used as a derogatory term by heterosexuals to describe lesbians.
Before the rebellion of 1745, the Celtic population (of Scotland and Ireland) went barefoot all year round. Either sex, rich or poor prided themselves on going barefoot as if a sense of national pride. Sassenachs were considered less hardy because they wore shoes. Scots and Irish settlers to the colonies continued to go barefoot until the end of the 18th century. It is still very much in living memory that children and adults went barefoot in Australia not because of adversity but because it was second nature. Times are a changing however and intense fear of low socio-economic groups mean going barefoot today is not encouraged by private owners of public spaces. Hence people who continue to do so have made a life style choice which often alienates them from society. Most appear in perfect peace with themselves, refreshingly relaxed and content with the simple pleasures of life.
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