Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Shoes: Protection or decoration?

Frugal (1930) reminds us clothing has important social significance which tells much about the personality of the wearer. Apparently our eyes react to the visual signals emitted by clothing much in the same way we do to hands and faces. This provides the safest distance to judge a stranger and the more intimate the relationship then the more important finer features and speech play.

Experts believe clothes serve three main purposes: 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, including shoes, is decoration. The essential purpose of decoration is to beautify bodily appearance, so as to attract admiring glances from others and fortify self-esteem. Modesty, on the other hand, makes us hide bodily attributes in an attempt to refrain from drawing the attention of others. When decoration and modesty are pitted together this can provide a psychological conflict or neurosis.

The degree of harmony or compromise between conflicting interests may be clearly seen in shoes. Feet are not sex organs, but Sigment Freud, acknowledged the importance of the foot in our evolution and was convinced upright stance led to the frontal display of both primary and secondary sex organs. He argued humans had no need to develop other senses when greatest benefit was gained by perfecting sight. Anthropologists believe humans became seeing beings as weight bearing feet influenced the form and function of buttocks, bosoms; the legs and thighs, tummies, hips and even genitalia.

The pedal extremities are 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 in close proximity to sensory nerves of the genitalia. This may explain why for some people neural print-through (nerve pathway crossover) causes their feet to become sexually expressive. However for the vast majority, feet remain sensual objects but not expressly secondary sexual organs.

In any event we are the only beings on the planet to be able to make love standing up, face to face. Without doubt, in the minds of experts, the greatest motive for wearing clothes is sexual. Not in the fig leaf sense (sinful) but to further enhance the attractiveness of the wearer. Human decoration has from the beginning of time celebrated appropriation and always demonstratively directed attention to the genital organs of the body.

The theory of Displacement of Effect would support shoes have become symbols of the primary sexual organs. As socialisation took place shoes became part of ritual for ceremonial purposes before eventually becoming costume for all. Fashionable footwear was always the prerogative of the ruling classes and up until the Middle Ages, the preserve of men. Only very much later did shoes become associated with protection from the elements and alien terrain. This was principally due to the lack of knowledge on how to construct robust, hard wearing footwear in many ancient societies.

Another common use of decoration was display of trophies. The strength and courage of animals was admired by the early hunters and gatherers who wore their skins to harness these qualities. This probably accounts for why shoes were made from animal skin. Prehistoric people decorated and scarified their skins to protect themselves from imaginary evil spirits. These patterns were incorporated into clothing designs as talisman with significant social and spiritual meaning. Such designs are clearly visible today in the brogue patterns worn in shoes.

Victors had keep sakes of the vanquished, such as their testicles. Today these curios are seen in tassels on loafers. Lucky tokens were also a feature of primal decoration to which the penny loafer is a good example. Rank, occupation and wealth were also encoded into types of clothing.

Unshod feet in Roman times were the mark of slaves, male citizens had the right to wear sandals, and military rank was depicted by the height of boot worn by the soldier. From early biblical times elevated sandals were worn by sex workers. The word shoe (scoe) is Anglo-Saxon, meaning 'to cover'. 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. 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 psychosexual 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.

Reviewed 13/12/2016

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