Friday, January 18, 2008

History of Footwear: Curtin University website


The History of Footwear at Curtin University website has been pulled. This disertation on the psycho-social and psycho-sexual aspects of feet and shoes was very popular with over a million hits per month. Curtin University closed the Department of Podiatry in 2005, but kindly allowed the site to continue.

I am in the process of rewriting the works and hope to have a new version in cyberspace later this year. Will keep you posted.

Meantime, here is a little taster on the historical development of shoe style and fashions.

Shoes were an outward sign of affluence and social standing and when the heeled sandals of Pre Hellenic times were worn by rich Assyrian merchants this affirmed trade routes and is the beginning of shoe fashion for men. From antiquity shoe fashions have been a male preserve with women either going barefoot or wearing modified men’s shoes. Footwear identified social station with heel height (usually wedged heels); colour and how high the shoe toed above the ankle were critical indicators. In ancient Rome the Emperor wore boots of crimson leather sewn with pearls and worn higher over the knee that the back. The highest elected office of the Roman Republic and Empire was the Consul and he wore red leather boots with ties crossing the instep which fastening around the ankles. Citizens wore yellow leather boots with ornamental ties on the outside of the calf. Soldiers had leather soled boots tied with stretchy brown yarn. Sumptuary Laws in ancient Greece prevented women from wearing more than three articles of clothing at one time and this may have influenced affluent women who went barefoot. Beauty, elegance, and refinement were key factors in the design of Greek sandals with extravagance and rich ornamentation important accessories. The Romans by comparison took a more pragmatic approach and devised military style thongs, which enabled their legions to travel the empire on foot. The caligae was a sturdy thick-soled heavy leather sandal with an upper that reached the instep. The secret of success was the bronze tacks used to secure the sole and upper part of the sandal together. Not only did this make a robust shoe it also added the opportunity to have cleats for better traction. Replacing the worn out tacks prolonged the life of the shoe which was essential for soldier posted hundreds of miles from Rome. Victorious soldiers returning from war substituted the bronze nails with gold and silver tacks. So popular was the habit that concerns were expressed as the ostentatious nature of foot adornment and eventually sumptuary laws were passed to prevent this. Patrician’s feet in Rome became a symbol of chastity and were worshipped by fetishists. Senator Lucius Vitellus kept a shoe of his mistress under his tunic and was witnessed kissing it frequently. This type of fetishism, according to Ovid (Ars Amandi), led Roman women to confine their feet into tiny shoes. Neither Romans nor Greeks entered a building without first removing their shoes. Throughout the Mediterranean civilisations, sex workers wore elevated sandals to attract customers. The resulting wiggle was considered attractive and the audible "clacking" against the stone pavement became a non verbal indication of their profession. In Egypt, prostitutes had ‘follow me’ etched in reverse on the soles of their sandals to leave a clear note on the sand. By the sixth century AD shoes were generally worn and made to fasten in graceful ways but a fashion revival of toe-less Greek bootees was also apparent. These ankle boots laced up the front or side, leaving the toes free. Rich decoration was the custom, and shoes were often embroidered with jewels. Boots and shoes followed the natural line of the foot and were made of leather, cloth or felt. Round about the ninth century AD a distinction in shape between the right and left foot began to be made by the Anglo Saxon shoemakers. Once the new notion of use of clothing had become generally accepted the art of costume developed and expanded. It formed according to Cuningdon (1941) a convenient mode of expressing rank. The 10th century man wore shoes of soft brown leather with openwork striping and jewelled ornament in the centre of the instep. Frankish boots called pedules were made of soft leather or cloth and were turned over at the top, below the knee. The upper of the boots were sewn with pearls. Women continued to wear soft shoes of the same designs as those of men. By the time of the Norman Conquest shoes were richly worked in leather, cloth or silk, and ornamented with gold. The Norman shoe fitted closely to the foot and finished at the ankle, sometimes having a rolled border. At this time shoes developed definite long points. By the Middle Ages shoes cost as much as a peasant would earn in a year and the majority of peasants went barefoot or wore makeshift cloth covers or particularly in Europe, wooden clogs. Women of substance wore costume shoes that reflected popular male styles of the period until the 16th Century. Catherine de Medici (1519 –1589 ) was a Bella figure and wore a shoe style which remained popular with courtiers until her death. This is thought by many to represent the introduction of fashionable shoes for women. Until then womens’ shoe costumes had lasted centuries whereas the fashionable shoes of the Minx Queen, died with her, and so began the cycle of fashion.

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