Shoes: From Ugly to Outstanding

The earliest shoe designs started as more of a simple affair, often mere “foot bags” of leather to protect the feet from rocks, debris and cold.  By today, it has evolved so much, both in style and in production, and remains a very important part of any culture, even literature.  Our dear Cinderella can testify how a shoe can most definitely change one’s life.

The oldest known leather shoe, about 5,500 years old, found in Armenia. And its great (x1,000,000) grandson, Fratelli Rosseti two-tone wing tips, available today.

Shoes have had many uses, from more utilitarian reasons like keeping the feet warm, to insuring faithfulness (yes, you read it right).  For example, the Chinese custom of binding women’s feet to keep them small is many centuries old.  Originally, the practice owed little to aesthetics.  Bound feet were thought to insure faithfulness, since with such deformed feet the wife would supposedly find it difficult to travel very far on her own.  The Venetians did something similar, as well.

Most definitely, shoes, above all other reasons throughout time, secure one a very cool spot in the  highest ranks of society.  And don’t even think our society, with as many choices of shoe types, is oh so cool and clever.  Not one of the footwear styles you see today are less than 400 years old.

It may have started with just humans wearing animal skins or furs wrapped around their feet stuffed with straw.  From the sandal, the oldest crafted shoe covering known to us, to today’s marvels of engineering, the shoe is an example of evolution in progress, as we always find new materials.

Over one hundred operations go into the construction of a shoe.  Even with the help of machinery, and, not to mention, the long process of converting putrescible animal rawhide and skin into the beautiful leather we like.  Here is a video we much appreciate about the craftsmanship of one of our favorite accessories.  And below that are some interesting notes about shoes throughout history.

-Until around 1800, shoes were made without differentiation for the left or right foot.  Nice and comfortable!

-Tanned leather has been a favored material for footwear since the Arabs introduced fine leatherwork in Spain in the Eighth Century.  The leather making trade of the Spanish Arabs was centered around the city of Cordova, to which we owe the origin of the cordovan, a soft, fine-grained leather shoe.

Not to be confused with the Chrysler Cordoba, filled with “rich, Corinthian Leather.”

-Beginning in the Twelfth Century, the sabot, a shoe cut roughly from a single piece of wood, was the predominant footwear of the European peasant, becoming so pervasive for the next several hundred years, that it managed to inspire a new word: “sabotage.”  Fifteenth Century Dutch workers flung their sabot into the wooden gears of textile looms to break them, fearing their livelihoods were threatened by the machines.

Believe it or not, this was a plot point in Star Trek VI. The one with Vulcan Samantha.

-Pointed shoes originated in France, reportedly the invention of a Count of Anjou who wished to hide his deformed hooves.

-King Henry VIII initiated the vogue for wide-tied shoes in England, presumably to hide his gout-swollen feet.

You know, the Henry that created an entire new branch of Christianity so he could get a divorce? …Then beheaded the woman he remarried? …Then his third wife died in childbirth? …Then he divorced the fourth wife? …And beheaded the fifth? And died before anything bad happened to number six? That guy.

-The custom among men wearing high-heeled shoes at the court of Louis XIV grew out of the King’s desire to mask his diminutive stature.

REAL little men don’t hide their smallness, they make it look GOOD.

-Back in 1324, King Edward II decreed that there should be a standard measure for shoes.  He obviously had trouble in shoe shops finding the correct fit!  He came up with a simple method.  On the basis that a baby’s foot must be the smallest size, this would be the starting point, and equal to size 0.  He determined that an inch was equal to three barley corns.  The corns had to be round, and dry, and taken from the middle of the plant.  Each size then went up 3 barley corns each until it reached 13.  Instead of continuing upwards, he decided to go back to the start, and so 13 plus 3 barley corns equaled 1 again (confused yet?)!

Pictured: the famous barley corn baby measuring tool.

-Today, units for shoe sizes vary widely around the world.  European sizes are measured in Paris Points, which are worth two-thirds of a centimeter.  The UK and American units are approximately one-quarter of an inch, starting at 8¼ inches.  Shoes size is often measured using a Brannock Device, which can determine both the width and length of the foot, making it the most accurate measurement.

Bet you never knew that’s what this thing was called.

-Due to the appearance of new man-made materials, shoes have become increasingly less biodegradable.  Currently, mass-produced shoes generally require 1,000 years to degrade, and/or may not degrade at all.

-Even adult feet can change size due to muscles and tendons altering, getting either smaller or larger.  It is a good idea to have your feet measured every 5 to 10 years.

Failure to check feet regularly may result in Shaqification.

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