HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION ON SHOES

So many authors have at various times, written about the origin, development, and history of foot-gear, the changes in fashion, shape, and material, that it is almost impossible to add any fresh information on this interesting subject. On the other hand, the subject has not been equally illustrated, and to supply this want the present work, it is hoped, may somewhat compensate for the past, particularly as all the pictures have been specially photographed, or drawn, for this volume from actual existing examples of shoes of various periods. To assist in rendering the illustrations more interesting a few introductory remarks may not be altogether unacceptable.

The frequent mention of shoes in the Old Testament is remarkable. God thus commanded Moses: “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exod. iii. 5). To this day the Oriental puts off his shoes on entering his house of prayer.

In the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Ruth, in the Psalms, in Amos, and in other parts of the Bible frequent mention is made of shoes. That sandals and shoes of rushes, or of leather, of beautiful workmanship, were commonly worn by the Egyptians, we have ample proof. Witness the splendid examples in the Egyptian department in the British Museum.

Taking a long stride from the more remote period to that of Roman, and later still to medićval times, we find the art of shoe- and sandal-making continues to play an important part in the civilised world. Highly decorated, often gilded and jewelled, the shoe maintained its place as an important item in the costumes of all classes. The nailed shoe (caliga) of the Roman soldier, the slashed and laced sandal of the aristocrat, and the plain foot-covering of the plebeian have been preserved to us deep in the soil of ancient London. In medićval times the members of the gentle craft, or followers of St. Crispin, were held in high esteem, and their trade became almost an art. A little book, Baldunus De Calceo et Nigronius De Caliga Veterum, published in 1667 at Amsterdam, claimed great antiquity for the shoe, almost associating God Himself with the craft.

Baldunus was an ecclesiastic, and the son of a shoemaker.

In many of the examples of early shoes which have been excavated in the streets of old London there is unmistakable evidence of skill and art having been bestowed on the foot-gear of our ancestors. We find the citizen of London was not unmindful of comfort, for even in medićval days cork soles were in use, and in other cases a padding composed of small rushes or coarse grass has been found inserted between the inner and under soles of ancient shoes. During the Tudor and Stuart periods the wealthy classes had shoes made of velvet, brocade, silk, and coloured leather, embroidered with gold and rich silk, and not unfrequently ornamented with jewels. During the reign of Henry III. (1216-72) boots and shoes were of a sumptuous character to match the elegance of the costume of the times.

Pointed or broad toes, which were so extravagant in length and size as to require a padding of moss or wool to keep them in shape, were a prevailing fashion; and in the reign of Queen Mary it became necessary, by Royal Proclamation, to prohibit the toes of shoes to be worn wider than 6 inches; the fastenings were of various sorts, sometimes of rich ribbon, sometimes by costly buckles, and at others the instep flap was covered with jewelled or plain silk rosettes tied to the latchets of the shoe.

In the sixteenth century John Taylor, the Water Poet, speaks of the extravagance of men of fashion who “Wear a farm in shoe strings edged with gold, And spangled garters worth a Copy-hold.”

As stockings and shoes are closely associated, a quotation from old Stow (p. 867) may be permitted: “First worsted stockings made in England by Win. Rider 1564, having seen a pair of knit worsted stockings in the lodgings of an Italian Merchant from Mantua...”

“In the second year of Queen Elizabeth, 1560, Mistress Mountague present the Queen with a payre of black knit silke stockings, for a new yeares gift . . .” from which time “the Queen never wore anymore cloath hose but only silke stockings.” It may be assumed that Her Majesty was as particular about her shoes as she evidently was about her “silke stockings,” which must have been well displayed by her ample and hooped skirts.

Ladies’ shoes during the reign of Charles I. and Charles II. reached a high point of elegance and beauty, both as to excellent workmanship and fine material; men’s boots and shoes were no less shapely and tasteful, being made of velvet, coloured and Spanish leather, or other rich material.

The fashion with ladies in wearing high-heeled shoes of an extravagant character probably dates back to the seventeenth century, and was introduced with the object of adding to the height of the figure. Madame Pompadour, who was not very tall, adopted this means of improving her appearance; needless to say, the fashion was quickly followed in France, England, and elsewhere. Another method of adding to the height by means of foot-gear was introduced by ladies in Venice: this was by Chopines, a kind of stilt made of wood and leather, which often reached the absurd height of twelve or more inches, and necessitated the wearers having the assistance of either gallants or servants to aid them in keeping their balance while walking.

Silver coverings for the high heels of shoes were not altogether unknown, though probably they were of rare occurrence; a pair, of Dutch manufacture, beautifully engraved, were exhibited in 1874 at a meeting of the Royal Archćological Institution, and were described as having been in use in the middle of the eighteenth century.

Shoes do not seem to have played so important a part in days gone by as did the glove, but the custom of throwing an old shoe or a slipper is one of the uses foot-coverings have been put to in olden times, and which has held its place to our own. There is a French story told of an old woman, who, on seeing the carriage of the young King Louis XIII. passing on its way from the church, where his wedding had just taken place, took off her shoe, and, throwing it at his coach, cried out, “‘Tis all I have, Your Majesty, but may the blessing of God go with it.” At ancient Jewish weddings it was customary during the ceremony for the husband to offer a ring to the bride, and after embracing her to give her a shoe.

When high heels became unfashionable and flat ones suddenly superseded them, ladies complained that their feet pained them exceedingly; but with the disappearance of high heels came, it is said, the emancipation of woman, as the flat heels enabled them to move about with greater ease and to take their place in the doings of the world!

In these days of machine-made shoes, when the fashion seems to have gone back to the period of high heels, the loving care and almost artistic feeling of the individual craftsman has departed, but it cannot be denied that the elegant shape and smart appearance of the twentieth-century shoe has not suffered greatly from its modern method of production.