Step in Time

This ancient sandal was found in Oregon’s Great Basin.  http://www.uoregon.edu.

When other fashion choices elude us, we can usually start with our hoard of shoes to dictate the right thing to wear.  Not so in prehistoric ages.  They were doing well to just protect their feet from the cold, wet, marshy terrain.  In 1938 close to a volcano at Fort Rock, Oregon, an archaeologist named Luther Cressman uncovered utilitarian sandals made of finely-woven sagebrush bark.  They were later carbon dated to 9,000 B.C. and remain the earliest known human footwear.

Pair of overshoes, 1550-1070 BC, Egypt, reed. From Major Myers collection. V&A: 865&A-1903

Egyptian “overshoes” from 1500 B.C. could double for small rafts on the Nile. Victoria and Albert Museum.

Looking at photos of shoes of the past is like looking at different people.  And the environments in which they lived.  In Egypt, reeds were woven into shoes.  The Japanese tied wooden clogs to their feet.

Image result for shoes of the Roman gladiators

Roman gladiator shoe from the First Century.  Museum of London Archaeology.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London maintains a collection of 2,000 pairs of shoes which document their place in history.  Oxfords began to be laced up in 1650 or thereabouts, but received their name on campus in England two hundred years later.  The university probably will never stop the tradition since the conservative world has adopted them as its trademark (Remember the opening segment of “My Three Sons?).

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Louis XIV of France decreed that no man nor woman could wear heels higher than his own five-inch high embroidered silks.  The fancy trend stopped  during the French Revolution, but later resumed.  Left and right shoes came in about the mid 1800s.

Moccasins

Huron moccasins of deerskin, porcupine quills and metal.  Canada, ca. 1800.  http://www.nmai.si.edu.

Farmers, cowboys and soldiers on the American frontier couldn’t have gotten along without their leather boots; long or short, they’ve been popular since before the Middle Ages.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has these late Nineteenth Century riding boots from France on display. 

In 1917 the first Converse “all star training shoe” for basketball was advertised.  Chuck Taylor used to sell them by the boxful after his sports clinics.

Image result for first converse chuck taylor basketball shoe

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World War I seems to be the benchmark for change in shoe styles, as it was for many other things.

1920 saddle shoes

1922 advertisement for saddle shoes.  http://www.vintagedancer.com

Around 1935 Thomas Sperry observed his dog’s stability while walking on ice, and designed a boat shoe with grooves in the soles.  More recently there’ve been updated versions or outright copies of previous styles.  Gucci produced the loafer in 1953, but it was for formal occasions.  During the same decade, stilettos, named after a Sicilian fighting knife, became all the rage for women.

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The recent comeback of the stiletto makes this one look pretty tame.  www.quora.com

Synthetic materials were made into cheap shoes after World War II, but also contributed to foot odor.  Rubber soles, glued instead of stitched to the uppers, have endured.

And in the future?  We can’t imagine giving up the comfort shoes which cater to baby boomers.  New Zealand company Allbirds currently touts an all-wool running shoe for men and women.  In these brand-name days, Nike, Birkenstock, Tom’s and Uggs do the talking.

There were several dozen sandals hidden in volcanic ash in the Fort Rock discovery of 1938.  The real question archaeologists have yet to answer, though, is: Were they from someone’s closet?  Or just on a clearance rack at the original DSW?

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