Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Left, Right, Left

   Other than hats and headgear, only shoes and footwear have had such a long history of being so very often, pretty crazy.  Frequently ignoring both the shape of human feet, and the intended function of them for us, shoes have repeatedly left the realm of the usable and comfortable; and thrown themselves wildly into zones what artfulness, potential hazard to limb and significant pain exist as constants.
    It was not ever thus though, at least, not in the western world. Prior to the AD era shoes and other footgear like sandals were no nonsense, and paid complete attention to the requirements of locomotion in a sensible way. Even these sandals from the later dynastic period of Egypt are, apart from the level of decoration applied to them, essentially practical footwear. 
    So what happened?  Why did we seem, rather suddenly at that, to decide that wearing shoes needed to mean discomfort and potentially injury?  The answer, as it so very often is in Attire, was fashionability and class distinction.  Among the first silly notions we got into our heads was a low slipper style shoe called the poulaine. As the spelling of its name implies, it was first devised in France in the 1300s. This type of shoe had a long point on the front that varied considerably in size, depending on the dash of the wearer.  Some were, according to text from the period, so long that they required a string to be attached to the point and then taken up to the knee where it was tied, so that the point of the shoe would stay out straight, and not fall under the foot as the wearer walked.   The potential hazards are obvious.  Navigating stairs must have been a slow and delicate operation.
Oh and by the way,  more extreme poulaines were pretty much only worn by men.  Women couldn't use them, not wearing skirts that were already so long they dragged on the ground.
    The next innovations to hit the streets were chopines and pattens. First devised as a way for ladies to walk the streets without getting their clothes mucked up, chopines eventually became footgear in their own right, while pattens remained something one attached to shoes.  In the case of chopines, they permitted a lady to soar skyward, sometimes reaching over 20 inches in height, and during the Renaissance prostitutes routinely wore them, as it made them more visible on the crowded streets, increasing the possibility of paying customers.
    Through all this time, though there were significant hazards and inconveniences to to wearing such fashionable shoes, they were not actually uncomfortable.  That came later.
    For some time shoes had been getting produced with very low heels and flat soles, hence the need for pattens in the first place, but over time heel height grew.  It happened slowly at first but by the time of the English Restoration in 1660, shoes for both men and women were sporting 2 inch heels, and sometimes a bit higher.
    From this time on, with a few short periods where flat slippers reigned again, heeled shoes became the norm for women, and sometimes the province of men as well.  Along with this came a mania for women's feet to be perceived as tiny.  During the second half of the 1700's when a woman's under skirt came to the bottom of the ankle, and that was viewable since the dress parted in the middle, the sight of a lady's foot and potentially her ankle became of great erotic interest.  So along with that came the desire at all times to look as though one's feet were minute.  Women increasingly caved in to the need for small feet by pressuring themselves into too small shoes.  You see where this is all going, no?
    There were natural limitations to heel height since heels were all made of wood and could snap if made too tall.  Enter technology.  The insertion of a metal post into the heel meant that greater height could be achieved, with the concomitant increase in discomfort.  Now to be fair, heeled shoes continued to be mostly benign through the end of the 19th century. It was only the 20th that brought  truly skyscraper shoes into being, and into fashion.  Interestingly, after the French revolution, men's shoes lost their heels, and never really regained them till we get to the 1960s.
     At the end of the 1930s we saw the emergence of the platform shoe, which though not uncomfortable in itself was mighty dangerous on a cobbled city street.There must have been more than a few twisted ankles and other injuries from these.
    With the advent of the metal center to the ladies shoe the needle-like heels of the 50s came into being, and with that the compression of the toes into a small triangular space, eventually deforming the feet by pushing the toes permanently into that shape.
    From that day to this shoes for women have been increasingly creative in design, occasionaly witty, and daring in execution.

    Shoes also continue to be inspiring to sometimes wildly sexual fantasies, and insanely restrictive of motion; (which is I gather, the point).

    As a final note, I  find it interesting that the two places on the human body where unbridled creativity is given voice are the extreme ends of it.   I'll have to think about that, and why that might be so. (grin)  Who knows?  There may be a post about it some other day.

1 comment:

  1. I do love shoes, but man, some of them on here are just plain weird. I do find that pair that looks like the heel is pulling gum off the pavement to be quite witty. Impractical, but witty.