Friday, July 8, 2011

Shoe Timeline Part 1: Antiquity - 1500s

A Timeline of Footwear in an Historical Context:
Antiquity - 1500s


What’s going on?  Not a whole hell of a lot, except in Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Pyramid of Giza, built 2560 BC
Egypt:  Ideally situated on the sustenance extravaganza that is the Nile River, the Egyptians led a rather charmed life in terms of the ancient world.  Sure, they had their fair share of slavery, murder, and a glutton of other monstrosities frequent during this time, but they also had a wealth of resources, a luxury that afforded the Egyptian population time to invent stuff.  And write it down.  

The Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece
Greece:  The epicenter of elaborate masterpieces, mythology, creation, and competitive sports, Greeks were busy making math, philosophy, beautiful pieces of classic architecture, and inventing the Olympics.  Well, that is to say, the exclusive club that was the freemen of Greece were busy doing these things, while their slaves and wives were busy wrapping up the day to day affairs.  

"You know, this could double as a great kabob stick."
Rome:  When in Rome, do like the Romans and…conquer.  If at first you don’t conquer, conquer and conquer again.  We could pull myriad clichés for the amount of conquering Romans did and attempted to do during the rise and fall of their Empire.  Within about one hundred fifty years, Rome had conquered nearly all the land around the Mediterranean.  Conquering was a very serious business for Rome.  On the other hand, they were doing some good.  They built roads and aquaducts and bridges and stuff. 

What were they wearing?

"Don't look so cross, Octavia.  Marble always adds ten pounds."
Egypt:  Egyptians loved their linen, the fabric of the Gods.  The loincloth was available in a variety of lengths.

Greece:  Greeks embraced a unisex look:  large blocks of draped fabric, often white.  

Rome:  Toga!  Toga!  Toga! Toga!

What were they sporting on their feet?

Egyptian Sandals
Egypt:  Sandals, initially made from papyrus and eventually improved to leather.  Only the rich could afford sandals at all, and were thusly considered a symbol of power and rank.  Pharaoh, the most powerful man in Egypt, had peaks on his sandals, proving that he could afford the most material.  

Greece:  The Greeks were excellent shoemakers, and, true to Grecian standards, by 400 BC they had begun enforcing rather arbitrary rules regarding wearing shoes:  certain shoes were only for certain occupations or for certain people, shoes were only worn outdoors, etc.  But their leather sandals were the  pinnacles of antique shoes!

Roman Sandals
Rome:  In case you’ve forgotten, Romans loved a good conquest.  And, without adequate clothing, including shoes, for their soldiers, their conquests may not have been nearly as glorious.  Roman soldiers wore sandals similar in design to those the Greeks wore, but considerably sturdier and less elegant.  For Roman soldiers, practicality was the name of the game.  Rome also prescribed to the convenient concept of separating classes by shoe color:  red for the Emperor, black and white for the senators, pale colors for the wealth, leftovers or none for the poor and the slaves.

Middle Ages

"Oh, Henry, thou art too dramatic. 
That plagued corpse didst not lick thy foot."
What’s going on?  As Eric Idle et. all inform us in Spamalot, “In Guinard, Palace, and Difford, plague. In the kingdoms of Wessex, Sussex, Essex and Kent, plague. In Mercia and the two Anglias, plague, with a 50% chance of pestilence and famine coming out of the Northeast at twelve miles per hour.”  In the time of castles, chivalry, and damsels in distress, people were actually dropping like flies due to some really horrendous sanitation, famine, and, in the British Isles, an utter unwillingness to advance.  Despite this, the Middle Ages remained focused on Feudalism, lords and ladies, nobility, and holy crusades. 

What were they wearing?  Gowns.  Smocks.  Maybe a cape or coat if you could afford one.  Other than that, pretty much everybody was sporting some sort of gown.

"Art those points on thy shoes,
or art thou just happy to seeth me?"
What were they sporting on their feet?  Sometime between the fall of the Roman Empire and the start of the Middle Ages, people forgot how to make shoes.  The turned shoe – named so because its maker would sew it from the inside and turn it right side out – made its appearance, with just a slightly pointy toe.  As the century continued, the toes grew pointier and pointier, to near comic proportions.  Called the Poulaine or the Crakow shoe, sometimes the points were so epic that walking was challenging.  Othertimes, people adorned their points with flirtatious bells.  Naturally, the church tried to ban these shoes, noting their overtly phallic nature, but the Poulaine remained popular until the 14th century. 


The Coronation of Elizabeth I.
She sports the farthingale and accompanying bodice
as well as a reticella and various ostentatious jewels.
What’s going on?   This century is dominated by discovery.  In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  A notoriously bad navigator, Columbus conquered what known as America – even though he thought it was India – for Spain, infecting and eventually killing enormous populations of Native Americans in the process.  This is also England’s Golden Age, ushered in with the rule of Queen Elizabeth I.

"Fido, I'd prefer it if you'd not so eagerly smell my codpiece."
What were they wearing?  The 14th century’s motto seemed to be either, “Out with comfort, in with the unnecessarily stuffy!” or “Black is the new black.”  With Spain’s gaining political prowess, they had a great influence on fashion, particularly men’s fashion.  Black was the color of choice, and served as a backdrop for the mountains of silver, gold, and jewels the rich wore.  European men now did their utmost best to showcase just how wealthy they were by ornamenting their outfits as much as possible – one notable accessory was the codpiece.  While men were stuffing themselves into uncomfortable menswear, women were stuffing themselves into equally uncomfortable womenswear.  Enter onto the scene the farthingale.  The farthingale’s popularity spanned the continent, forcibly creating the desired silhouette for women.  Made primarily from wood, this hoop skirt stay was always paired with a high-torsoed, long-waisted, cone-shaped bodice that came to a point below the natural pelvis and effectively made sitting the hardest task of the day.  Men’s and women’s clothing both uniformly embraced the stark juxtaposition of the puffy and the slashed:  puffy upper arms, meet staunchly confined lower arms.  To make things even more uncomfortable, the well-to-do of both sexes proudly showcased the almost indescribable reticella lace collar – the stiff looking, high-necked lace garment made popular by Queen Elizabeth I.  As the century progressed, so did the size of the reticellas, sometimes made so large that its wearer had difficulty eating.

"You sure you were ready for me to
remove your training wheels?"
What were they sporting on their feet?  If it hasn’t gotten through to you yet, the people of the 14th century really dug extravagance and discomfort.  To this end, chopines – or pattens as they were better known in Europe – became the shoe to wear for Europe’s wealthy and elite.  Chopines were outershoes, initially popular in Turkey, with the practical purpose of keeping one’s indoor shoes safe from the elements.  However, these shoes followed clothing’s extravagant pattern.  The chopines grew, sometimes to heights of thirty inches, requiring servants to hold the hands of the people who wore these shoes.  As the shoes grew, they became exclusively women’s shoes, where initially, in their lower, more practical form, chopines were worn by the wealthy of both sexes.  Men’s shoes kept the tradition of puffing and slashing alive.  Wearing escaffignins became the latest craze, puffing the toes and slashing the heels.  Towards the end of the century, men’s shoes became tapered at the toes, and wearers began decorating them with ribbon rosettes.  Additionally, pumps made their first appearance towards the end of this century– at least as far as historians can deduce. 

No comments:

Post a Comment