A timeline history of Shoes and Fashion
The Middle Ages:
OH LORD (OF THE MANOR) WON’T YOU BUY ME …
WHAT’S GOING ON?
Castles. Moats. Knights. Damsels in distress. Okay, maybe not so much the damsels in distress, but definitely the castles, moats and knights. Central Europe was dotted with small settlements each ruled by a duke, count, baron or bishop, who swore their faith and alliance to the king. All that for an entire "feudum" along with a nominal fee in the name of taxes, of course.
<Left: The Harvesters, 1565
Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Oil on wood.
Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Travel in those days was slow and communication was poor. People were pretty much isolated from each other and therefore enjoyed great independence but also great risk of attack.
The Lord usually lived in a large stone house on top of a steep rock or between deep moats. Peasants worked the land and produced the goods that the lord and his manor needed in exchange for protection, along with a nominal fee in the name of taxes, of course ~ and the majority of their crops. But that was okay, because peasants were their property so it's not like the Lords were taking something that wasn't theirs. Right? Right.
Right: Detail. Scenes from the Life of Jesus. Unknown Artist. Wood. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.
Example of 12th Century gowns, gowns and more gowns.>
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When it came to fashion things were pretty much the same everywhere throughout western Europe in the 12th century. Men wore gowns. Women wore gowns. Toss in a few surcoats and capes and they’re all set.
<Left: Detail of the Deposition. Rogier van der Weyden. c. 1435 Oil on oak panel. Museo del Prado, Madrid. Example of Houppelande gown.
The smock or cottenron became the most common article of clothing in the 13th century and in the 14th century things livened up a bit with loose shirts under doublets with hose which were sewn together except for the front which was fitted with a codpiece over the opening. Women wore houppelande gowns with hoods.
Adoration of the Magi.
1433. Fra Ngelico.
Tempera on panel.
Museo di San Marco, Florence. Example of 15th century men's fashions>
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When it comes to shoes there’s going to be a bit of disappointment. All that sophistication developed by the Greeks and Romans got lost somewhere along the line. Somehow, some way, suddenly no one had a clue.
Thank heaven for the turned shoe, the awakening of the shoe development world, the epiphany of footwear. Turned shoes were sewn inside out then turned right side out, something never thought of prior so it was quite the innovation of the day.
Some odd shoe fashions developed in the middle ages. One being the Poulaine or Crakow shoe which began to appear in western Europe in the 12 century. Rumor has it that they were developed and popularized by Count Fuld of Anjou who needed to cover up some kind of deformity but it is more likely a style adopted by the Crusaders who were influenced by the traditional pointed toed footwear found in the near/middle east. So again we are back to the pointed toes.
<Detail. The Adoration of the Kings. 1564. Pieter Bruegel, the Elder.
Oil on wood.
National Gallery, London. Example of Pouline shoes.
Pointed toes are hardly odd, but the fact that they became hugely exaggerated is. The toe gradually became longer and longer to the point of absurdity for some were so long it was difficult to walk. Some even attached small bells to the end to indicate they were interested in a little flirtation. Bells. Flirtation. Surely you saw the connection? Maybe that’s where the whole “footsie” thing started?
Of course the church tried to ban poulaine shoes spouting their “apparent indecent phallic symbolism” but the fad continued well into the next century. However, towards the middle of the 14th century, people started to wear soled hose which did away with the need for shoes altogether. Now why would anyone want to do that?
Right: Detail. The Adoration of the Trinity.
1511. Albrecht Durer.
Oil on lindenwood.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Example of Duck's Bill Shoes.>
The pointed toe fad disappeared around 1460-70 being suddenly replaced by a new shoe fad called Duck’s Bill shoes (also called Bear’s Claw) during the reign of Francois I. Duck’s Bill shoes were made of silk, brocade or velvet and were heavily padded, puffed and embroidered with the upper part slashed so that colored hose showed through. Colored hose for men were all the rage and a slashed shoe such as this was the ideal way to display them to the utmost. But again exaggeration took hold and the shoe became broader and broader in the toe until eventually some measured up to twelve inches in width making the wearer waddle. Apparently, it was quite fashionable to waddle around with big fat floppy clown shoes.
<Left: Detail. Jan Arnolfini and his Wife. 1435. London, National Gallery. Jan Van Eyck. Example of wooden pattens with leather straps.
None of the shoes stated above were very good for snow or muck or the average dirty street so another type of shoe was developed called the Patten. Pattens were shoes to be worn over other shoes which raised the feet up over the muck and gunk. They consisted of a very thick sole made of wood or leather with leather straps that you stuck your feet into. The first clogs were also developed around this time which was probably a variation of pattens of some sort.
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