Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Origins of sandals: A brief outline

Sandals appeared in several parts of the world almost at the same time. They were probably a response to overcome practical problems such as crossing rough terrain but as craft evolved then they were worn for decoration. Sandals were certainly a feature of antiquity and had a locus around the Mediterranean. Over the millennia the concept of using straps or thongs to hold a firm sole to foot took practical shape and sandals were made in all manner of materials, some unique to the region.

Wooden sandals were found in the Middle East and India, rice straw sandals in China and Japan, rawhide sandals in Africa and papyrus sandals dating to 1500 B.C in Egypt. In pre Hellenic times shepherds wore elevated sandals as they tended to their flocks on hilly terrain. The heeled shoes were thought to be taken to Assyria and rich merchants wore them as a mark of distinction.

In Persia sandals were crafted from wood and had a toe separator between the first and second toe with no thong. Platform soles were known and the sandals were worn in bath houses and harems. Often the wooden sandals were intricately inlaid with pearl and other semi precious stones.

Sandal construction, in the main, consisted of a simple leather sole held to the foot with a toe thong. By Biblical times sandals were commonly worn throughout much of the known world. In Mathew 3:11. John the Baptist proclaimed the arrival of Jesus with the words,

“I baptize you with[a] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire.

Wooden sandals were worn throughout India (Padukas) and were wooden pallets with a stalk in front that was grasped between the big toe and second toe. This type of shoe is clearly depicted on sculptures, temples and in sanskrit writing, circa 3000 BCE. Wood presumably was longer wearing and readily available and preferred by religious sects e.g. Hindus who would not wear leather. It remains unclear whether these sandals were indigenous to India or taken from Persia (or vice versa). Trade between the civilization was known and it is expected fashion cross over took place.

According to the Encyclopedia of the History of Japanese Manners and Customs (The Nihon fuuzokushi jiten), Japanese people wore zori which were sandals made form woven straw with a thong held between the toes from the Heian period (794-1185). Also geta which were wooden platform sandals held to the feet by a flexible thong which was sometimes rope or a thong covered in a black velveteen kind of fabric. The thong went through the base of the sandal, up between the big toe and the second toe and then the two ends crossed over the arch back toward the middle or back of the foot where the thongs reconnect to the wooden base of the geta. There is no reference as to whether these were indigenous or imported. Zori were worn with tabi (white cotton close fitting sock) which fasten up the back of the heel as far as the ankle. Tabi had a split toe, between the big toe and the other four toes for the sandal thong. Getas were worn barefoot.

Other parts of the Far East also had variation on the thong type of sandal i.e. in Singapore the thong attachment was replaced with a strap across the top of the foot which followed the metatarsal heads (the Singapore Slide), and in Philippines the platform thong had ornate carvings. These regional variations are considered unique to these regions. Colonialisation and trade are two likely reasons why styles merged and so now it is impossible to be clear on their actual origins. Similarities between occidemtial and oriental styles may be due to a ripple effect from the Mediterrean civiliastion or more than likely cross fertilisation which arise through early trade routes such from the Spice and Silk trades.

During World War II Japanese soldiers serving abroad wore Zori attached to bicycle-tire soles, the habit was picked up by Chinese and Koreans as well as prisoners of war such as the Changi Boot. US troops posted to the Pacific eagerly took home carved platform sandals as souvenirs for their loved ones. Many believe this was why sandals became popular in the US after the war. That combined with a beach culture and the influence of Hollywood epics brought espadrilles to the attention of the foot fashionista in North America.
,br>Reviewed 27/01/2017

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