The History of Shoes

Comfortable and cultural are only two of the many words that describe shoes.

Comfortable and cultural are only two of the many words that describe shoes. Shoe history stretches back to the ancient times. Back then, sandals were formal wear shoes and they have the revered distinction of being the first footwear. In the ancient world, everyone wore sandals (no, not flip flops!) to funerals.

Some shoes are truly protective like sabatons, the Renaissance era metal foot coverings that completed suits of armor, circa 1500. Other shoes like those worn by Asian women in the 1600s were binding. European fashionistas selected the finest fabrics for their footwear and made the boot a mainstay in the 18th Century. The Industrial Revolution ushered in work shoes as the 1800s morphed into the 1900s.  In the early years of the 20th Century, shoes were no longer hidden beneath floor length skirts and long petticoats of the Victorian age. Buttoned up boots were replaced with sneakers by 1915 and rising heels went hand in hand—or foot in foot—with rising hemlines with the late-night bar hoppers of the roaring 1920s.  Whether you were a knight or a night owl, your shoes made a statement.

A shoe’s statement can be political like stars and stripes sling backs or practical such as steel-toed work boots. They can show one’s social-conscience like those purchased from Toms for charity or they can aid in getting the job done like clogs with metal spikes that crushed chestnuts with a single stomp in 19th Century France.

However, the shoes most of us love best are those that stand the test of time or remind us of our favorite cultural legends. For instance, movie starlet Marilyn Monroe’s red high heels dating to the late 1950s are a fashion mainstay. In the mid 1960s, Beatle’s front man John Lennon created a craze with his music as well as with his low leather boots. In the 1970s, we erroneously thought our earth shoes were cool. In the 1980s, we dressed preppy in penny loafers. The 1990s prompted us to look down at our ballet flats.  Today, almost anything goes.

Some of the most common shoe styles have been around for a long time. High heels, which were introduced as elevated shoes in the western world about 500 years ago, helped to extend the long-legged look of some of the world’s most famous legs like Elizabeth Taylor, Jennifer Aniston, and Kim Kardashian. The ladies of the hit TV show, Sex and the City, who wore some of the most glam shoes of the early 21st Century, shared their own celebrity status with shoe designers like Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin. Sky high prices, chopines (very high platform-style heels) and bright red soles that served as logos became synonymous with the era’s kick-up your heels fashion.

Museums have even taken on the mission of highlighting the importance of the shoe in history. One of the most fascinating museums to do so is the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada which focuses on the shoe as art form. Other museums have featured shoes in their displays like the wonderful Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA where the hands-on science museum encourages visitors of all ages to compare their shoe with that of basketball great,  Shaquille O’Neal, who wears a size 22.

Now those are some big shoes to fill.

Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, award-winning TV personality, and TV talk show host, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide, including around Tampa Bay. Dr. Lori is the star appraiser on the hit TV show "Auction Kings" on Discovery Channel airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Visit www.DrLoriV.com, www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori or call (888) 431-1010.

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