Saturday, February 18, 2006

Barefoot Chic: Old as the hills

If you are one of the many people now, who dare to bare their pair (of feet, that is), you will be delighted to know there are kits for foot jewellery, called Bare foot Chic (Miniature Editions). These charming items contain a 32-page instruction guide and all the paraphernalia to make barefoot jewelry. Available from all good bookstores with more info at Bare foot Chic .

The history of foot adornment is as old as the hills and whilst at one time was prerogative of the privileged classes was adoringly copied by others.

Many authorities believe the ancient Egyptian symbol, the Ankh was a thong worn only by the very ‘well heeled’. In part because our ancient ancestors had not been able to attach a sole to the thong, and ladies feet were highly decorated with barefoot beaded sandals.

This may have followed the ancient practice of Mehndi skin tattooing with the dye made from crushed henna leaves. Although associated with India it was found throughout many cultures in antiquity. The women in Egypt and Mesopotamia used henna dyes to colour their feet and hands (3500 BCE).

Queen Nefertiti of Egypt painted her finger and toe nails ruby red – a collar forbidden to all, bar royalty. Egyptian mummies had henna on their hands and nails. The latter were considered especially fashionable and quite bad manners not to have henna red nails. Mehndi was introduced to India in the 12th century by the Mongols. Not just decorative, it had spiritual, magical and medicinal properties. The ancients used henna a natural astringent to treat small cuts, corns, blisters and fungal infection. It was also thought to help stress and was associated with painful menstruation and pregnancy. Designs varied with the Indians preferring finely drawn floral and paisley patterns; Arabs had large floral motifs and their hands and feet; and in Africa designs were bold geometric shapes.

All have their meaning steeped in their cultures. The primary function of the tattoo was to protect the individual from evil possession both in this life and the hereafter. The old fear spirits could enter the body meant eyes, hands and feet were prime sights for decoration. In India, brides are tattooed as an essential part of the preparations. In Morocco henna parties were common in the Sultan’s harem. Women would party for days on end, entertaining themselves with dancing and eating. Dancers wore mehndi on the palms of their hands to allow the audience to concentrate their gaze. In many cultures it was considered rude to look into a superior’s eyes, this was especially so with high born women. Hence the fashion for heavily decorated foot jewelry became established. Many women who could not afford this turned to henna, which is still popular today.

Reviewed 21/11/2016

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