Women's feet were a symbol of chastity in Roman times and were worshiped by fetishists. Senator Lucius Vitellius kept his mistress’s shoe of under his tunic and would remove and kiss it frequently. This type of fetishism, according to Ovid in Ars Amandi, led Roman women to confine their feet into tiny shoes.
Freud thought the foot had phallic implications and shoes were vaginas, so even the simple slipping on a shoe was a psycho-sexual event. This symbolism intensified from the 1800s although it is difficult to say why this phenomenon came about. I believe Victorian values with the inevitable acceptance to cover up may have influenced but industrialization and urbanization certainly played their part.
As the song goes "a glimpse of stocking was something shocking", fashions have leaned heavily on subtle nuances to convey hidden and often heavy social agenda. Fashion historian James Laver (1969) described the erotic principle applied when body coverings which partially concealed body parts could in themselves become objects of affection. Foot coverings and shoes lend themselves nicely to this type of masquerade. Traditionally footwear was designed for men’s' pleasure which only reinforces male dominance and vested interests in continuation of the status quo.
An example of this can be seen in the romantic fashions of the nineteenth century. Like Bo Peep the fashion was for hooped crinoline dresses. With each step, hems rose and fell which could expose in an unguarded moment a tantalising glimpse of the foot and ankle. Thought too distracting for mere males, moral code determined the adoption of the boot which laced to the mid-calf.
Boots were made from silk, fabric or kid leather. Of course this had the opposite effect and rather than detract from impure thoughts it became the focus of men’s' sexual fantasy. The idea of long legs has an appeal to both sexes. An enhanced body contour, stiffly bound in leather has considerable allure and attractiveness. The thought of putting them on and more importantly taking them off, is for some people quite overpowering.
Shoes started to take on sexual interest in the 20 Century, part of a postmodern movement, first by emphasizing the contours of the leg through the increased use of high heels and secondly the shoes becoming increasingly feminine and therefore tempting. Many restifists (shoe fetishists) are made aware of their attraction to women's shoes when, as young children, they innocently witness their sisters and other female members of the family, dressing. When you think it is after all perfectly natural to have countless fittings before special occasions such school balls and weddings. The female preparation in these circumstances is far more complex and intimate than their male counterparts. These sessions would hold strong erotic attraction for any sensitive male. Shoes are, of course, the piece de resistance and can only be appreciated at the end of the fitting sessions. Usually viewed with accessory clothing held provocatively, under these circumstances some men, such as cross dressers are just compelled to wear women’s shoes. Terms like feeling sexy, appearing attractive to others, and exuding power in stature are popular reasons for the habit. Some men love the sound high heeled shoes make and others revel in the different materials they are made from. Most wearers insist it is the comfort of the style which draws them to women's shoes and not the idea of the shoe as a sex toy. Always reassuring to know that.
People can also have sock or stocking fetishism. Most are males but there are some female sock/stocking fetishists. The habit is often associated with an auto-erotic asphyxia fixation which is obviously sexually driven. Socks/stockings need to have some specific attraction to the person such as a special colours, shape or smell. People with sock fixation invariably view shoes as just shoes.
Paraphilias describe arousal in response to sexual objects or situations that are not part of the normal arousal-activity patterns and in varying degrees may interfere with the capacity for reciprocal, affectionate sexual activity. Fetishism has been defined as a condition which exists "when non-living objects of specific parts of the body are the preferred source of sexual excitement" (Kelly & Byrne, 1992).
The French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857–1911) was the first to describe fetishism in 1887. Binet's other claim to fame was with fellow psychologist Théodore Simon devised a series of tests of human intelligence that, with revisions, came into wide use in schools, industry, and the army. According to Binet, fetishism is caused by certain experiences in early childhood, where the later fetish has an unusual emotional impact. Most authorities believe the pathological imprinting caused by the early childhood experience must also be accompanied by a predisposition for the event to result in fetishism. Research seems to indicate the precursor is a neurological anomaly. Some people believe people who develop abnormal sexual patterns tend to have experienced a more restrictive upbringing. Usually this is in conjunction with being brought up to think of genital feeling as forbidden, or naughty, and certainly unmentionable. The foot is the most common and persistent phallic symbol of the human anatomy.
Transvestism is thought to be a different kind of fetishism which involves three components; autogynephilia (gynephilia is an erotic preference for physically mature women and the transvestite is erotically interested in himself with fantasised female genitalia and breasts; the fetishism connected to female objects; and women as a kind of erotic target. Transvestism and heterosexual trans-sexualism appear to be closely related. Fetishism is said to work by replacing the human partner to various degrees so that the fetish object stands for or signifies a particular partner of class of partners. Of all the forms of erotic symbolism the most frequent is that which idolises the foot and the shoe (Ellis, 1920). Many foot fetishists, hetro, homo and bisexuals integrate their preference for feet and shoes into their stable and less intimate relations. Indeed, relationships often involve fetishistic and non fetishistic behaviours.