The year 1991 is significant in the history of footwear because it was in this year that archaeologists discovered a naturally mummified Stone Age individual named Oetzi near the Austrian-Italian border, who died approximately 3300 years before our era. This Alpine wanderer was dressed in deerskin boots with a bearskin sole and hay-filled insoles. The Stone Age footwear manufacturing technique included less stitching, the dryer and warmer the legs, and thus the leather wrinkled. Given the equipment available at the time, the stitches were little and not very trustworthy.There isn’t a single pair of shoes that can be traced back to the beginning of footwear history. This was due to the fact that different temperatures required different shoes, and different materials for shoes were available in different places. The footwear in northern regions was fashioned of thick leather and warmed with fur and hay. Meanwhile, sandals constructed of palm leaves or papyrus fibre predominated in the southern regions. Regardless of the weather, individuals required footwear to protect their feet from the elements.
Prehistory (2.5 Million BC – 1250 BC)
During the Migration Period (4th–6th centuries) and the Crusades (11th–13th centuries), when Europeans marched to the East, many improvements and perfected footwear models arose. Europe was inundated by Egyptian sandals and pointed shoes at the time. Soon after, the heel was developed, and the western fashion of footwear began to emerge, which was worn according to one’s social position in the Middle Ages’ spiritual and severe environment. The most original and popular fashions blossomed in Italy and Spain, the countries with Europe’s strongest seaports, the fastest-growing craftsmen’s shops and merchants, and the earliest financial hubs. As a result, these countries were the genuine birthplace of footwear and clothing trends.
Antiquity (1250 BC – 476)
Ancient Egypt was the birthplace of sandals. Palm leaves, papyrus fibres, and raw leather were used to make them. The end of the foot was stretched and fastened in these sandals. Only clergy and the Pharaoh were allowed to wear them at first, but sandals were eventually worn by all ancient Egyptians, and the various hues represented different social classes.Many Western countries find China’s developments difficult to comprehend. Golden lotus feet, which were most popular during the 10th and 11th centuries, were a canon of beauty in China for many decades. The term “golden lotus feet” refers to the breaking and bending of the toes in order for the feet to fit into special shoes. In the past, having small feet was seen to be a sign of great beauty.
Classic Antiquity refers to the Greek and Roman periods of history, when the first stages of footwear manufacturing flourished. Paintings and drawings have preserved fragments of the development and evolution. Sandals were the original and most popular type of Greek and Roman footwear. These sandals, unlike the Egyptians’, were long, went halfway up the knees, and featured a lot of laces. Sandals could only be worn by free citizens who could easily distinguish themselves from slaves in Greek culture.Shoes were worn according to a person’s position in society and social class in ancient Rome, as garments and shoes were symbols of power and culture. For a time, sandals were the most popular footwear in Europe. They were fashioned in the styles of clerics, military, elites, and peasants. Comfortable, slip-on braided shoes, sometimes made of wood, were common in Celtic areas. They immediately became peasant and impoverished people’s footwear.
The Middle Ages (476 – 1453)
Despite the fact that the Middle Ages are known as the “dark ages,” it was during this time that many new footwear designs and fashions emerged. When the heel was first discovered, it was only worn by men. Also appearing were pointed shoes, the earliest footwear structures, and a crude Goodyear structure.
Espadrilles arrived in Central Europe from the Pyrenees around the beginning of the Middle Ages and quickly became popular. These shoes were constructed of jute canvas and were light and comfortable, but they were intended for use in a warmer environment, which is why they never made it to Northern Europe.
Leather boots were flipped inside out and sewed up with the shoe sole in Northern and Central Europe.It had a practically seamless structure because the seams were hidden inside the shoe, protecting and reinforcing it, but it could only be used with soft and flexible leather. These shoes have the advantage of being able to be worn at different seasons of the year by inserting hay or fur into the shoe during the colder months.
Poulaines, or odd footwear with long and pointed points, were popular during the Gothic period. The tips of these shoes might be up to half a metre long at times. The length of the tip was a symbol of status. Because some of these shoes were so lengthy, they needed to be connected to the legs with specific laces in order to walk properly.This form of footwear was composed of a variety of fabrics, including velvet, and was embellished with decorative embellishments.
Early Modern Times (1453 – 1918)
During this time, males dominated fashion until the end of the 18th century. Men’s legs were seen to be the pinnacle of beauty until the end of the 18th century.As a result, men were the ones who dictated fashion, particularly footwear fashion.Fashion used to move considerably more slowly, and shoe trends and manufacture began in countries with strong economies and rapidly expanding art and aesthetics. Shoes created in these countries eventually spread throughout Europe.They featured the most opulent designs and patterns, as well as the most up-to-date and stylish materials available at the time.
To symbolise their power, European kings wore shoes with extremely high heels during the Renaissance period. They could also walk straight through puddles because their heels were up to 30 cm high. These were the forerunners of today’s platform shoes. The popularity of high heels was greatly aided by King Louis XIV of France, popularly known as the Sun King. Men’s high heels are still referred to as “French shoes” by fashion historians.
During the Renaissance, pointy shoes were replaced with duck-billed shoes, which had wide, squared noses. The noble knights flourished during the rebirth of culture and beauty. Because they were comfortable for horseback riding and warfare, they were the first to start wearing ankle boots. Complexity, pretentiousness, drama, and a desire for grandeur characterise the Baroque period, which is marked by complexity, pretentiousness, drama, and a desire for greatness. As a result, it’s not unexpected that throughout this time period, shoes were made of rich fabrics like velvet, satin, and silk, and were embellished with artificial flowers, ribbons, and diamonds. Men used red-heeled shoes to demonstrate their rank. Men began to wear boots with elaborate stockings coming out of them in the 17th century.Men’s shoes began to differ in style, colour, heel, and front shape only in the early nineteenth century. Fabric footwear became particularly popular among elite shoes during the Napoleonic era. Meanwhile, the traditional heel height for men’s footwear was 2.5 cm. The era of men wearing taller high heels than women is over.
During the Industrial Revolution, however, the biggest advance in footwear production occurred. A modern footwear sewing machine was devised by inventors and craftsmen in the United Kingdom and North America, and mass fabric-made footwear manufacture began. Jan Ernst Matzeliger invented a shoemaking technology that allowed him to produce 700 pairs of shoes every day.Footwear became more widely available, and by the mid-nineteenth century, shoes for the left and right feet were distinct! Laced shoes were popular in the 19th century as Americans began to harden the ends of shoelaces at the end of the 18th century. Above-the-ankle laced shoes have become some of the most popular basic shoes for men. Until World War I, nudity was frowned upon, thus only slippers (toilet shoes) made of silk or satin and embellished with ribbons were considered alluring.
Modern Times (1918 – 21st Century)
With the foundation and prosperity of American pop culture, which was associated with the desire to be distinctive, unique, and a part of a certain subculture, there was a significant breakthrough in footwear in the second half of the twentieth century. The image of gentlemen has altered as a result of cheaper raw materials, new constructions, and a different lifestyle. Trendy, continuously changing multicoloured footwear replaced fancy and high-quality footwear. The formation and appeal of this new footwear were heavily influenced by Hollywood celebrities and musicians. In the fifth decade, the Beatles popularised Chelsea shoes, Audrey Hepburn popularised kitten heels.
Platforms, which were fashionable in the seventh and eighth centuries, fell out of favour in the ninth century, and were replaced with low-heeled shoes. Sports shoes had the most influence on subsequent footwear trends. The creation of sports shoes for basketball players by “Converse” in 1917 was the first step toward revolution. These were the initial steps toward fashionable athletic footwear.The U.S. Rubber Company invented a modern, comfortable, and stylish fabric-made sports shoe model with a rubber sole at the close of the nineteenth century, in 1892. This is how “Keds” came into being.
A perceptible change in sports shoes and clothing occurred in the middle of 1940. Comfort, style, improvisation, and inventiveness are all important factors. The name “Sneaker” comes from the word “sneak” in English. Sports shoes, paradoxically, did not take their first steps softly, but proudly and loudly announced to the world, “We are here!” The undefined “here” has conquered not only sports venues, but also fashion runways and shoe store shelves. The popularity is still high today!
It’s fascinating to learn about the history of footwear. It reveals the rigorous division of society into classes, as well as the evolution of fashion over time. Fashion used to change every 10 or even 100 years, not every season, as it does now. There were times when slaves didn’t have shoes to distinguish themselves from other people, and nobles competed in terms of how fancy and sophisticated their footwear was.We can now wear whatever we choose and society with no restrictions restricting human rights. According to our emotions or dress code, we can follow fashion trends and select different footwear for each event and occasion. The incredible technological advancements of the twenty-first century have enabled us to have high-quality, long-lasting, and trendy shoes. And not just one pair, but an entire closet full of stylish footwear!