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The History of Shoes: Ancient and Early Footwear

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he History of Shoes: Ancient and Early Footwear

An outfit – whether designer or traditional – is considered complete when paired with suitable shoes. Hence, it is safe to say – shoes are the foundation of any outfit.

Apart from serving as a fashion staple, shoes are used for practical purposes like moving safely and comfortably from one place to another and getting ultimate protection from the elements. But did you ever have this thought of what could be the history of shoes? Or perhaps when were shoes invented?

Discover everything about ancient, medieval, and modern shoes in the article.

Brief History of Shoes

Shoes have been with humanity for ages. In fact, the oldest shoes date back about 5,500 years and were found in Vayots Dzor province of Armenia. These shoes were fabricated and stitched from a single piece of leather.

Although the oldest surviving shoes are said to be 550 decades ago, several archeological evidence has proved that shoes’ existence dates back about 42,000 years. East Asians used to wear shoes around 4202 decades ago. So, what did people used to wear before that?

According to a skeleton study conducted by anthropologist Erik Trinkaus, it was noted that humans had slimmer toe bones after wearing shoes than those who used to walk barefoot.

Hence, the study proved that walking barefoot could have been the reason for thicker toe bones. Similarly, foot anatomy and ancient skeleton studies show an evident change in the foot structure (particularly toe bone) between 26,000 and 30,000 years ago.

The timeline was when smaller toe bones started to appear less effective and robust due to the use of footwear. The discovery of a 27,000-year-old Russian skeleton further supported this study.

However, apart from having a small, lesser toe bone, the ankle and foot featured ivory beads as a form of decoration. Hence, it suggested that shoes were worn for both practical purposes and to show the level of status in society.

However, varying footwear shapes and models represent the rich history behind shoes. Let’s start with each model type and era the footwear belonged to.

Ancient Footwear

Sandals

Sandals are raging fashion even today. Such traditional shoe style has a simple covering of a sole attached to the foot with multiple straps and can be made of rope, leather, plastic, straws, or even old tires.

Ancient humans used to consider sandals as an ultimate footwear style because of their versatile usage. Since sandals are suitable for hot, dry climates and rocky areas, they were used by ancients to ensure protection against insects, razor-sharp stones, and hotter surfaces.

Leather sandals also offer better breathability to the foot and ensure a more cooling effect.

Now, let’s go through some history of shoes:

  • The Anasazi of the American Southwest used to wear braided, woven, and flexible sandals between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago.
  • The Japanese used to wear wood-soled sandals called “Geta” with socks for traditional appeal. Even after 2,000 years, individuals in Japan still wear geta with traditional dresses to keep their feet elevated from mud or damp surfaces.
  • Ancient Indians wore open sandals made from wood with a knob in between the big and second toe, also called “Paduka” to keep their feet elevated from the surface. Padukas were worn for more than 5,000 years by Ancient Indians.
  • Ancient Egypt had a unique way of determining the status of a person in society – by wearing sandals. In fact, the status symbol by elite individuals was displayed by sandals. However, the use of sandals indoors was not practised by ancient Egyptians. Even the Pharaoh did not consider wearing sandals indoors. Sandals were worn by those who could afford them.
  • In the 4th century BCE, Greece developed in terms of wealth, science, arts, and sports. Thus, the development led to the creation of various sandal styles, which were made to depict the status of individuals or for various occasions.
  • Did you know the term sandal originated from the Latin word “vandalism”? Romans also had certain restrictions on the use of sandals. However, Roman-style sandals gain quite popularity in the 20th century and are still popular today.

Neolithic Age

Moccasins

Moccasins are made from a single piece of leather and stitched together, closely-held using leather laces. Such footwear styles were often worn for thousands of years by early pioneers and indigenous Americans.

People in the Neolithic age used to wear simple shoes like moccasins until the Middle Ages. Moccasins come in various materials like plain leather or can be decorated with beads to create a beautiful appeal. You can find moccasins in any store today.

Middle Age

Clogs, Pattens, and Sabot

Some experts believe that the Romans used to wear wood-soled shoes over other materials. Clogs were quite popular among the peasants and workers throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. Such medieval footwear ensured better elevation and provided thick, wooden feet protection from mud, dampened ground, razor-sharp stones, and other elements.

Pattens were basically slip-on wood-soled footwear worn during the Middle Ages until Victorian times. The wood sole was closely held to the footwear surface using multiple straps. Most individuals used to wear them outdoor. However, pattens were occasionally worn indoors for walking on wet or cold stone floors.

Sabot was traditional French footwear often worn by factory workers and peasants.

Early Shoe Fashion in Europe

Up until the 19th century, shoes were not made for the right or left foot specifically and rather the same. People used to wear simple shoes like moccasins made from a single material. It was until the high and late Middle Ages that people started incorporating new ideas to craft a distinctive footwear design that displayed the status of the wearer.

The first-ever shoe fashion in Europe appeared in the late 1100s with long, pointed footwear. Poulaine was increasingly popular between the 1300s to 1500s. However, the shoe style was restricted to the elite and higher classes. By the end of the 15th century, poulaine was replaced with a wider shoe option called hornbill or Bearpaw.

During the late 15th century, platform sandals and mules were replaced with high heels. High heels were worn to display to status and wealth of an individual. During the 17th and 18th centuries, laces were displaced with metal buckles and decorated with jewels. Around the mid-1800s, sneaker shoes become more popular among individuals due to the rising popularity of sports activities. Leather boots become even more popular during this timeline.

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