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Middle Ages

A timeline history of Shoes and Fashion

the 16th century:


Remember all that isolation in the Middle Ages? The independence? Well, times were changing. People started to discover one another. Feudal lords were gradually disappearing and new political powers rose. It was the era of discovery.  Columbus discovered America and suddenly Spain was reaping the rewards.  Merchants began to trade amongst each other introducing new textiles.  There were political changes, industrial and commercial developments and an increase in wealth over all. 

elizabeth I

<Left: Detail. Portrait of Queen Elisabeth I. 1592. Oil on canvas,
National Portrait Gallery, London

The later part of the 16th century is associated with Queen Elizabeth I of England.  She was a tough ruler, determined, but not obstinate. Extravagant, sometimes flippant and frivolous but her rule was serious, conservative and cautious.  The Virgin Queen.  She never married and probably never intended to from the beginning although she would never let her long line of suitors know that.  The middle class grew, there were scientific innovations, The printing press.  And wars over religion. 

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In the early part of the 16th century, Spain became the rising political power in Europe and with that influenced fashion, spreading its conservative styles throughout.  I don’t know what happened but somehow comfort was out and stuffing ones body in the most rigid, stiff outfits imaginable became the standard of the day.  Toss in about seven tons of unnecessary ornamentation to show off how wealthy you were and you fit right into Renaissance life. Portrait of a Gentlemen

Right: Detail. Portrait of a Gentleman. c.1512. Veneto Bartolomeo. Oil on panel. Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome.>

Men wore silk doublets, velvet mantles trimmed in fur and velvet hats, often times literally covered in silk from head to toe. And puffing and slashing became the in thing.  Everything was slashed and puffed.  Breeches, sleeves, bodices, capes, shoes, hose.... 
1500's slashing

Left: Detail. Lais of Corinth. 1526. Hans Holbein the Younger. Limewood, Kunstmuseum, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basle. Example of slashing and puffing.

Slash, slash, slash.  But don’t forget the puff.  You must never slash without the puff.  Codpieces became exaggerated as well, which I am sure was highly influenced by the puffing aspect for slashing would have been indecent.  There was also stuffing, wooden hoops and wires for those who desired added rigidity. 

For the first time in history, black became the must have fashion color.  After all, it goes with everything and is the perfect backdrop to highlight all those jewels, silver and gold.  And black was just the color to symbolized sobriety and austere elegance, and damn if those outfits weren’t seriously sober.

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Slimmer shaped shoes eventually replaced the broad Duck’s Bill, most likely due to the fact that people got tired of waddling, first to a low cut style called escaffignins which were not quite so wide but puffed at the toes and then the heelless eschapins which were also slashed. 
1500's men's shoes

Right: Detail. St Lucy before the Judge. 1532. Lorenzo Lotto, Oil on wood, Pinacoteca Civica, Iesi.>

During the later half of the century, wealthy men started to wear shoes with tapered toes, keeping the ever popular slashing and pinking but with the added decoration of ribbon rosettes.  And hello mule, welcome aboard! 

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Although black was all the rage, the “little black dress” was long in coming for the dress trend of this century was large, heavy and stiff.  With that said, let me introduce the Farthingale

<Right: Detail. Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia. 1599. Juan Pantoja de la Cruz. Example of farthingale.

The farthingale was a stiff bell shaped underskirt sewn with hoops made of wood to hold out the skirt which was not gathered at the waist thus accentuating the slimness of the body. Sure, it sounds slightly uncomfortable but wait. This skirt was paired with a bodice consisting of a stiff high torso ending with a point at the waist, lined with hardened canvas and edged in wire forcing the torso into an uncomfortable, unnatural cone shape while lengthening the waist and squashing the breast.  Yes, stiff, flat, cone shaped and squashed.  I’m exhausted just thinking of it. 

Right: Portrait of a Gentleman
1600-05 El Greco. Oil on canvas,
Museo del Prado, Madrid

And if that weren’t enough, these gowns were fitted with ruff around the collars to complete the entire uncomfortable, inflexible, movement-impeding outfit by continually scratching at your neck. Later in the century, the ruff grew so large in proportion it too needed to be supported by a wire framework which often times made it hard to eat.  No wonder people didn’t live long.

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Women basically wore the same type of shoes as the previous century with the added interest of a new crazy shoe fad that originated in Venice and quickly spread to the rest of Europe.  Like the patten, the chopine was a type of over shoe with a raised platform sole meant to be worn over other shoes to give the wearer height.  And similar to other shoe fashions, they fell pray to exaggeration whereas the soles got higher and Chopinehigher until some were up to thirty inches.  Walking on such tall shoes would be like walking on stilts except you had nothing to hold on to, but women wore them anyway requiring a maid or cane to help them walk.  Oddly enough, the church approved of Chopines but for all the wrong reasons.  Chopines impeded movement and movement was required for such sin producing activities such as dancing.  And if you can’t move, you can’t dance.  Everyone is happy (or at least the Church was.)  But they were eventually outlawed in Venice after a number of women miscarried after falling off their shoes.

During Elizabeth’s reign, high heels and pumps made their first appearance.  The Italian pantofle and the Venetian heeled slipper replaced those pesky fat toed escaffignons so popular during the previous era. 

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