Thursday, November 28, 2019

A very short history of Slippers

According to Rossi (2000), slippers or mule type footwear are one of the oldest shoes which were most certainly worn in prehistoric times. The name is thought to have derived from Middle English, ‘sliper’ or ‘slipor’ (Old English) meaning "slip-shoe" and generally describes any low-cut, lightweight shoe which the foot can be slipped into.

The oldest known shoes were discovered in Fort Rock Cave, Oregon (1938). Made from woven sagebrush bark these have been radio-carbon dated to at least, 10,000 years old. A simple platform (made from woven fabric) with toe and heel attachments (thongs) woven from rope. Longer than the foot, the front part was folded in a pocket to protect the toes and the sandal strapped to the foot with a thong. Rabbit fur and pine needles were sometimes added for comfort.

By the beginning of the Cradle of Civilization (Sumeria, circa 4th millennium BCE), footwear had become more evident. Still reserved for the privileged, Sumerians were noted artisans and used animal skins. Aristocracy wore slip on sandals with a turned up toe (circa 3000 BCE) with the earliest known depictions seen on the Assyrian, Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (circa 841 BCE). Bending back toes may have been a practical innovation to assist with walking, or a limitation of the shoe makers of the time to craft bespoke footwear.

The seafaring Phoenicians (1550 BCE to 300 BCE) ensured fashionable dyed footwear spread throughout the known world i.e. Ancient Egypt (3200 BCE – 343 BCE), India (2800 BCE - 1500 BCE) and China). Babylonians (1696 – 1654 BCE) preferred perfumed sandals made from fine kid leathers, and dyed red. Footwear was also decorated with trinkets and bling.

The Persians (600 BCE) wore exotic wooden platform sandals (paduka) with a toe separator between the first and second toe. Wooden slip on sandals were intricately inlaid with pearl and other semi precious stones and commonly worn in bath houses and harems.

The term Babouche comes from the Arabic 'babush' or Persian 'papush', and describes a flat, slipper-like style with an exaggerated point at the toes. These slippers are thought to have been worn by nomadic Arab desert dwellers from the earliest of times. Funereal babouche slippers decorated with gold foil were discovered in a Coptic tomb of the 2nd century.

During the time of the Indus valley civilisation (circa 3000 BC), Indians learned to tan leather early making sumptuous clothing including footwear. The most commonly worn slip-on shoes were called chappals which were worn outside. The more heavitly decorated Mojhris were preferred by the Royal families, and worn at ceremonies such as weddings. By contrast these were embroidered with gold and silver threads, and often decorated with precious gems and pearls. The Mojhari was a flat soled closed shoe with an extended curled toe and had no left right distinction. Other types of Indian slip-ons included 'jhuttis' (jhootis or juttis) which had flat fronts.

A common practice throughout the orient was to remove shoes before crossing the threshold of a building, whether it be a place of worship or humble domicile. This is thought to be a humbling mark of respect found in many religions.

In the Old Testament, there are to examples when God tells Moses and Joshua to remove their sandals becase they are on holy ground.

‘And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.’ (Exodus 3:5) and

: “Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said… ”What saith my lord unto his servant? And He replied unto Joshua, Loose thy shoes from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.” (Joshua 5:14&15).

The Prophet Muhammad (570 – 632), regarded shoes as impure and commanded the faithful to remove all dirt from their shoes prior to praying. It became easier to remove them and frequent prayers (and shoe removal) ensured babouche slippers became the preferred shoes of the faithful. The Moorish Empire dwarfed the Roman Empire and chronologically flowed into the Middle Ages with the influence on costume unsurpassed. Soft and sumptuous Moroccan leathers were made in Cordova, Spain, which became the centre for quality leather for Europe throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.

In agricultural societies outdoor shoes harboured dirt and filth and by necessity were made from animal materials which to many considered unholy, so had to be removed before entering a place of worship. The possible exception to the rule in some parts of India was wooden Khadau, slip on shoes worn by priests, and those who worked inside the temple.

Like the Greeks, the Romans removed their shoes before entering a private home or temple. Roman patricians wore indoor sandals, carried by their slaves, and it was common etiquette to remove shoes when reclining on furniture. Only non-leather sandals were allowed to be worn in sacred temples.

From antiquity in many parts of East Asia, the head was considered the most revered part of the body and where the spirit lived. The feet were less spiritual, and more material (shoes). Many main buildings in East Asia were built above ground to enable ventilation and in some places a piping system below the home was used to push smoke to warm all the floors. Culturally, removing shoes at the front door was a mark of respect to the house and to honour its cleanliness and purity. Much of domestic life involved contact with the floor including eating and sleeping on mats. At a temple, stepping up and over the threshold symbolized a conscious desire to leave behind the material world. In some Asian countries buildings had a special area inside the front door where people could take off their shoes In Japan, these were called genkan, or a hyeon gwan (South Korea). Outside shoes were kept in a shoe box or rack ‘geta bako’. The genkan always sat lower than the house and slippers were provided by the host.

Culturally, the sight of bare feet could offend and were generally hidden from sight with socks or house slippers. In Korea these were called ‘sil nae hwa’, a literal translation meant ‘room indoor shoes’. In Japanese homes, a separate pair of bathroom slippers was kept for the bathroom.

Traditional Japanese homes had tatami mats on the floor which were easily damaged by anykind of footwear Only bare feet or socks were allowed. By the 1st century, Zori (Tatami Sandals), or flat bottomed sandals, were made of straw with a leather thong between the first and second toes. These were worn with tabi, a white cotton foot covering (like socks) with a split toe, between the big toe and the other four toes for the sandal thong. Tabi were the only foot coverings traditionally permitted on the tatami mat-covered floors. Special slippers are worn for the bathroom , and put on before and after the toilet. By the Meiji period (1868-1912), the presence of Westerners increased, and special slippers were made so foreigners could easily pull them over their shoes.

Uwabaki are light, flexible slippers generally worn indoors and many schools, certain companies and public buildings which prohibit outdoor shoes provide Uwabaki. At the entrance of every school, from preschool to college, there is a genkan with an assigned locker (getabako) for each student. The school uwabaki is always white with a colour strip to indicate the student's grade level.

In Korea house socks or beosuns were made of silk or leather and to a point at the toes. Traditionally these were worn with silk or leather ‘flower shoes.’

Slippers of the Orient were written about in the 12th century, by a Song Dynasty Officer in South East Asia. He described two types of slipper worn in what is now, Vietnam. The leather soled shoes had either a thong to fit between the toes or a leather strap across the foot.

Advances in cartography and sailing during 15th century meant Europeans charted new trading routes to the Far East. The spice trade was a major attraction and European colonisation began, with the Dutch and Portuguese in the 16th century. Within three hundred years, all Southeast Asian nations were colonised except for Thailand. Home based Europeans were fascinated with the exotic Orient and all the more so because of the quality of Chinese and Indian imports.

In the late fifteenth century, ladies protected their expensive and easily damaged shoes with slipover overshoes, called pattens. These were clog like overshoes with either a wooden or metal base to lift the shoe off wet or muddy ground. Inside, pattens were removed to allow the shoe to be worn indoors.

Soon overshoes were modified to accommodate the forefoot and became lightweight backless slip-ons with a fabric upper and cork soles. Dubbed by the French, pantofles (Middle French pantoufle or “slipper”), their popularity spread across Europe. Later in the 16th century the term pantoffle, became generic, and described any fashionable slip-on shoe e.g. chopines. A modified form of the slip-on, mule, had a small heel (approx. 1 -2 cm) and could be worn outside. The interchange of the terms, slipper, pantoffle and mule has subsequently led to much confusion among shoe historians.

Perhaps the most famous pair of pantoufles, were described by Charles Perrault (1628 -1703) in the fairy tale Cinderella. According to the writer, she wore ‘la petite pantoufle de verre, " which was initially translated as a fur slipper (French: vair). Many believed this became a glass slipper only after the Walt Disney animated film (1950). However, this interpretation has since been discredited and the general opinion is the author meant glass mules.

By the middle of the 16th century, gentlemen wore ornately designed bedroom mules. It is difficult however, to accurately tell when the term slipper first became associated with a backless house shoe. Sir Walter Raleigh (1552 - 1618) did write of wearing “fair lined slippers for the cold”, but there is no clear indication whether the was referring to indoor shoes, or feet warmers generally. In his play, The honest Whore, the 17th century dramatist, Thomas Dekker (1572 – 1632) makes reference to slippers, confirming they were made by shoemakers.

“What a filthy knaue was the shoo-maker, that made my slippers, what a creaking they keepe.”

Later, William King (1663–1712), in his poem ‘The Old Cheese’, writes

‘For, if he went abroad too much, fhe’d ufe
To give him sflippers, and lock up his fhoes.’

By the time Dr , Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) described them in his dictionary as “A shoe without leather behind, into which the foot slips easily.”, bedroom slippers were in common use.

Chinoiserie described a European movement where all things Oriental (i.e. Japan, Korea, South-East Asia, India or Persia) became desirable to a bludgeoning European Middle Class eager to show off their new-found wealth. At this time, La bella figura, wore sumptuous slippers, patterned to match outfits, and made from sumptuous silk, velvet or expensive fine leather with soles of wood or cork.

In doors, 16th ladies of leisure wore mule slippers, sometimes with a small heel. Slippers were the symbol of the bourgeoisie.

Many experts argue the first court ballet took place in 1489 at a banquet in Italy directed by Bergonzio di Botta. Each course of the meal was heralded with a dance called an "entree". Ballet truly emerged as a distinct form in Italy in the 16th cent. Light foot binding was known to take place in both the French and Italian Courts, and was practised by courtesans keen to attract the attention of the regent. Ballet shoes are thought, by some, to be an historic remnant of this practice. The ballet slipper was delicate heel less cloth upper slipper, held on to the foot with long strings or ribbon lacings.

Rococo style was elegant and strongly influenced by chinoiserie. Bed room slippers were characterized by exuberant decoration, asymmetry, made from sumptuous materials with tapestry uppers often outlined with golden threads. At a time when real men dressed like peacocks, bedroom slippers were the sexy shoes of the time and by the end of the 18th century, slippers (open and closed) were matched with the attire of the boudoir. In the era of Louis XV (1710 -1774), heel less felt soled slippers became the footwear of choice for valets and footmen because they did no damage to the wooden floors or expensive carpets and moreover they made no noise. To this effect, house slippers became the first ‘sneakers.’

The rise of the neoclassical style during the reign of Emperor Napoleon (1804 – 1814/1815) led to a marked division in slippers. Popularity of Grand (Dress) Balls saw the introduction of dancing slippers worn for formal wear only; whilst house slippers (or carpet slippers) were for casual wear. Empire shoes or dancing pumps were heel less and did not extend beyond or above the vamp and quarter top lies. Pumps required no fastening (button, buckle, of bows) and followed the simple line of classic fashion made in silk and other fine materials. The new dancing steps were more vigorous than the previous minuets and the lady’s shoes suffered. It was common etiquette for women to take a second pair to the ball.

Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, formalised slippers when he wore velvet slippers with quilted silk lining and leather outsole when he wore them to black tie diner events. The Prince Albert slipper or smoking slipper soon became associated with smoking jackets and were worn outside the home to clubs and smoking rooms.

Evening Slippers were often decorated with a grosgrain bow or the wearer’s initials embroidered in gold. In the US, the style became assimilated under the generic definition of exoticism.

Modern slipper’s come in many styles and incorporate influences from all that went before. From hotel bathroom slippers, both reminiscent of Eastern culture to the distinctly Victorian ‘pipe and slippers,’ they are still very much part of domestic life. Gone for most are the super luxurious house shoes of the very rich and the silent shoe and dancing pump too, have been replaced with modern trainers, particularly by the younger generations. Slippers are now made from many different types of material both natural and synthetic. Emphasis on security, particularly at air and sea ports has had an unintentional consequence, with an exponential rise in the popularity of slip on shoes. Slipper boots like uggs are typically furry boots with a fleece or soft lining, and a soft rubber sole.

DeMello M (2009) Feet and Footwear: A Cultural Encyclopedia ABC CLIO
Dreesmann F (2011) The Gentleman's Slipper DoubleF Publishing
Rossi W A (2000) The complete footwear dictionary (Second Ed) Kreiger Publishing Florida

Reviewed 28/11/2019

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