When roaming Paris, it is hard to resist a bit of window-shopping to check out the new fashion trends. As I explored designer boutiques, I came across many stunning shoes and was inspired to dedicate this blog to the brief history of the shoe, including the one made specifically for the bride.
"Humble, often torn by spikes, soiled by mud ... the shoe is capable of bringing our thoughts right to the history of mankind and civilizations." In this one sentence, the author of the book “La Chaussure” historian Jean-Paul Roux, describes the social significance of the shoe.
The earliest known shoes are sandals, dating from approximately 7000 or 8000 BC, and were discovered in Oregon, US in 1938. The world's oldest leather shoe was found in Armenia and is believed to date back to 3500 BC.
It is thought that shoes may have been used long before this, but because the materials used were highly perishable, it is difficult to find evidence of the earliest footwear.
As civilizations began to develop, thong sandals were worn more and more. This trend dates back to paintings depicting them on ancient Egyptian murals from 4000 BC. Flip-flops with a very modern look have even been found in the tomb of Tutankhamun.
While thong sandals were commonly worn, many people in ancient times (Egyptians, Hindus, Greeks) saw little need for footwear, and mostly preferred going around barefoot.
This preference started changing in Ancient Rome where peoples' attire became a way to demonstrate one’s status and rank.
In the City of Rome, only Roman citizens were allowed to wear shoes, which were sandals with leather straps. Slaves, even freed, had to remain barefoot.
Little by little, shoes grew in popularity and became a part of the standard wardrobe during the Middle Ages. Shoemaking became a profession and shoemaking guilds were formed across Europe.
By the 15th Century, pattens (the predecessors of today’s high-heeled shoes) became popular among both men and women in Europe. During this time, the poor and lower classes in Europe and the slaves in the New World remained barefoot.
In the 16th century, royals started wearing high-heeled shoes to make them look taller and larger than life. Evident examples of this are Catherine de Medici and Mary I of England. By 1580, even men wore heels, and anyone with authority or wealth was often referred to as "well-heeled".
Before structured shoes became prevalent in the 16th century, people walked with a different gait, pushing onto the balls of our feet instead of rocking forward on our heels, which is considered to be healthier by some body mechanics specialists (https://boingboing.net/2017/10/04/people-walked-slightly-differe.html).
It is clear that throughout history, besides its function of protecting the feet, the shoe has been used as a means to distinguish oneself in society and to give an aesthetic dimension to an outfit.
Both on a daily basis and during ceremonies (such as weddings), people wore their shoes as a distinctive and remarkable sign of their rank. The corporation of shoemakers created works of art based on noble materials and precious metals.
It was at the Court of Versailles that the shoe became a trendy accessory that could be treasured and collected.
The expression "barefoot" used by great authors like Victor Hugo proves clearly that shoes are luxurious accessories reserved for the bourgeois class of the population. Often men and women would only have one pair of shoes, which was worn exclusively to church on Sundays.
Footwear became even more important in the 17th century as shoe cobblers became a united corporation. At the Court of Louis XIV (le Roi Soleil or the Sun King), the shoemaker Nicholas Lestage became famous thanks to a pair of boots which he crafted for the king in calf leather, making them perfectly sized and seamless, and giving them unmatched comfort. Louis XIV possessed a large number of pairs and was a great influence at the Court.
At this time, the eternally popular fairy tale of Cinderella was published in Italy by Basile and in France by Perrault, and the Glass slipper has been celebrated ever since.
If there was ever a queen of France who had a passion for shoes, it was Marie Antoinette. She owned about 500 pairs of shoes, ranked and classified to her taste, and had a servant working on the maintenance of this impressive collection.
Queen Victoria, to whom we owe the tradition of the white wedding dress, paid great attention to her wedding shoes as well. For her wedding, she wore a white satin dress trimmed with Honiton lace, and matched it with white satin flat shoes decorated with ribbons, made specifically for her by her shoemakers, Gundry & Son.
Until today, brides across the world keep wearing white, cream or sparkling shoes. Either high-heeled or flats, they represent an important part of the bride’s wedding attire.
Many famous designers, such as Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, Miu Miu, Vera Wang, etc., keep creating bridal shoes of different styles. I was delighted to see the return of the Glass Slipper as part of some wedding trends!
It is important to remember, however, that wedding shoes need to be comfortable to wear on such an important day and to serve you well at the ceremony as well as on the dance floor!
Photo credits: Primavera Dreams