Monday, June 22, 2015

A short history of miniture shoes

Giving miniature shoes is an age old custom. In antiquity funereal jars were made in the shape of boots and were kept as keep-sakes in memory of the dearly departed.

By the late 18th century in England, Prince Frederick Augustus (Duke of York) got engaged to Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina (1767-1820). The lady had dainty feet which captivated the Prince who wanted her to have special bridal shoes. The royal shoe maker was consulted and six new pairs of tiny shoes were promptly made. At the time newspapers were unable to comment upon the beauty of the royal person so instead heaped praised upon the charm of her "neatness" and petite shoes. Frederica was no raving beauty and had rotting teeth by all accounts. However as a result of the media interest copies of her purple leather shoes (13.97 centimeters long), sold in their hundreds and miniature replicas became a must to have.

Miniature shoes were made of silver and porcelain and many were used as pin cushions. The popularity of all things oriental saw miniature porcelain lotus shoes as keep sake in many European houses. The gift of a miniature shoe would generally well meaning and the sign of real friendship.

After George du Maurier (1834 – 1896) published the novel Trilby (1894 ) it had enormous success. The story involved an Irish girl who goes to Paris during the Belle Époque. There she falls under the control of Svengali (evil hypnotist). One of Trilby’s eccentricities was to flash her bare feet in public. At the time this was considered as rude as baring bear bosoms or flashing a bare bottom. The popularity of Trilby (novel and play) became international and caused public riots where ever the play was performed (because of the barefoot flashing). This caused the fashion for foot and shoe shaped objects such as snuff containers and hip flasks to become a gentleman’s must have accessory. By this time the miniature shoes had taken on a more risqué meaning. Miniature tight laced ladies boots or even a full leg were also popular. Foot shaped sausages and ice creams became a real novelty which attracted much attention among those familiar with the book and play. It is reasonable to assume the same population were familiar with Freud’s Castration Theory.

The tradition of giving a shoe to mark the completion of a business deal dates to Biblical times and supplies the origin to the custom of the bride’s father passing a shoe of his daughter to the groom. This marks the exchange of fiscal responsibility. In the past brides were considered property. Today the custom is still followed more usually in the form of a miniature shoe . As gifts these are good luck charms.

Finally there is a superstition to not give shoes to friends at Christmas time. The belief is the friend would walk away from you. The origins are unknown but in less enlightened times it was understood whatever station you were born into was your destiny and helping people rise above this was not the right thing to do. The belief may have come from the wealthy classes who lived in abject fear of being overtaken by the lower classes.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Adventures in Human Being: The Foot by Gavin Francis

Book of the Week BBC4. Adventures in Human Being Gavin Francis leads the reader through a cultural map of the body - an adventure in what it means to be human. Drawing on his own experiences as a physician and writer, he blends first-hand case studies with reflections on the way the body has been imagined and portrayed over millennia. Read by Bill Paterson

His journey ends at the foot - a marvel of engineering often overlooked by anatomists and medical students.

"It's thanks to the arches of our feet that we stepped into our humanity more than two million years ago."