History of Shoes and Shoe Fashions

Our earliest ancestors chose bare feet as their way of life but, during hunting and gathering needed something to protect their feet from sharp rocks, sticks, and the cold. They chose animal skins to wrap their feet and protect their soles.

It was generally thought that footwear goes back to some thirty thousand years ago but recently, according to the Journal of Archaeological Science, human fossils found in China from forty thousand years ago indicate shoe-wearing toe bones. The oldest preserved shoe dates to about ten thousand years ago and they were made of plant fibers. The first footwear was probably just a wrap around the feet and its main purpose was solely for protection. Over the years, footwear has grown to also become a fashion statement.

During the Renaissance period, shoe making standards was introduced. Leather was the main material although skins of animals, thick cloth or wool felt were also used. Shoes with broad toe boxes dubbed the duck-billed shoes were the norm until the end of the Renaissance period where slimmer shapes shoes like the escaffignons replaced them. At this time the poor were wearing the galosh – leather uppers with wooden soles shoes. The peasants were wearing sabot fashioned from a block of wood.

Shoes continue to evolve and cork soon became a popular material for soles. Heeled shoes came into existence. Women’s shoes began to have embroideries and heels had colors. Moccasins and indoor slippers were introduced along with boots during the baroque era. Following this era, other materials were used to construct shoes – velvet and satin lined with kid leather for the ladies and buff and suede leathers for the men.

In the early 1800s, patent leather came into use and shoes became lighter. Left and right shoes were introduced along with steel tips and heels. This was followed by rubber being used as a material. By 1885, shoe sizes were standardized. Hard wearing sneakers came into fashion during the 1930s and soon became a practical choice during this depression period. Silk and kid women’s shoes were replaced with leather and suede.

Wartime also impose limits on footwear. Leather was limited, rubber soles were banned (they were prioritized for use on army boots), heels were fixed at one inch, soles were thinner, plastic soles were necessary. In some places like France, only shoes made of strings, fabric and wood are legal. Luxury shoes had to find alternatives to leather and crocodile, snake and lizard skin were sourced instead. The stilettos came about during the 1950s. With the need to find the alternative to leather, other materials including synthetic like plastic became more popular. And with that came many styles. The 1970s saw a revival of the platform, strappy sandals, and high boots.

The 1980s saw innovations in athletic footwear including air sole, ergonomics designs and emphasis was on not only style but also comfort. The 1990s saw yet even more innovations with the invention of microfibers and stretch fabrics. The shoe manufacturing technology has also come a long way. And the latest in footwear seem to gear towards being more ecological and more in tune with nature.


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