Saturday, December 31, 2011

If the shoe fits

Everyone knows choosing the right shoes can be a hard decision. Common sense would indicate choosing shoes with wide heels would appear more beneficial than those with a narrow base. However resent research would indicate women are making the wrong choice and wide heeled shoes are more likely to do harm than good. It appears walking in wide-heeled shoes increases the pressure on the inside of the knee by 26%, while stilettos increase the pressure by 22%. Either way, according to experts, heels probably contribute to inconvenient knee pain. Not prolonged problems such as osteoarthrosis (arthritis) but more likely to be niggling soreness. The foot police have for centuries tried to connect shoes with sore feet. Shoes may have contributed by not fitting the foot well enough or being inadequate to support the foot during activity but in truth shoes have never been the primary cause of serious foot problems. Despite rhetoric to the contrary. Common sense would lead us to realise shoes need to be able to fit and protect the foot. Fashion on the other hand has a propensity to exaggerate and often styles reflect a san faire an attitude to convention. In other words some styles are deliberate in their attempt to display the impossible. Why is this so? Well according to fashion experts it has much to do with one upmanship. No matter how ludicrous it appears to the uninitiated, the cool costume exudes elitism. Take for example kids who wear very expensive trainers designed to protect the foot during periods of intense activity. Many will sport these with the laces deliberately left undone. Yes, it annoys the hell out of parents and teachers but also clearly sends a message shard by youth. "It will never happen to me.!" We all did it, or if not outwardly then we consciously suppressed the desire to do it. But through length of days comes understanding. I well recall when my own children, who followed the fashion dictates of the eighties and Bros. The blonde duo from London who spent a fortune on their credit cards before disappearing into rock star oblivion. The boys sported Beck's beer tops in their trainer laces. Needless to say I have to change my favourite tipple to accommodate the need for suitable beer tops to adorn my children (and their friends) shoes. Not new of course and fifties kids would be only too familiar with the penny loafer, where a lucky penny was included in the shoe design. My own favourite was Joe Cocker at Woodstock who had a silver star on his boots.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Well Heeled

Madame de Pompadour, (1721-64) was the advisor and paramour of Louis XV and had tiny feet. She wore distinctive heels which were named after her. The heels were high and curved into a small base. The style became very popular among the courtiers. For a short time French courtesans (high class call girls) bound their feet to catch the attention of the king. This corresponded to a time when Europeans were strongly influenced but the styles of China and Japan. The Chinese movement in Europe was eventually replaced by gothic. The foot binding was less severe and practiced by grown women. The foot was made smaller and these women wore tight high heeled shoes. The distinctive walk was considered extremely attractive to the French and Italian men. The origins of modern ballet come from this period of history. Empress Elizabeth Petrovna (1741-1762) was the daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I. She was a most powerful ruler, and some say a ruthless one too. However in her private quarters she always insisted on being attended by Arab boys dressed in ankle high boots with upturned toes and extravagant ribbon bows. Her successor Catherine .the Great.” was rather well known for entertaining rather bigger boys in her boudoire. Marie Antoinette (1755–93) was the Queen of France and married to Louis XVI. Unhappy, the queen surrounded herself with a dissolute clique and threw herself into a life of pleasure and extravagance. She had shoes for all her outfits and her servants would catalogue them to prevent the Queen from wearing the same pair. Since her highness would rarely, if ever, appear outside her palaces, the shoes were delicate works of art with no practical function. In October 1793 she was tried by a revolutionary tribunal and sentenced to death by guillotine. After the trial Marie Antoinette was taken to the "bathroom of the condemned" for the brief interval before her execution. She took time to prepare herself with care, in the spirit. and in the body and wore a white dress with black stockings and fine heeled shoes. It was usual for these condemned to death to wear a mourning dress by Marie Antoinette was an exception. The Prince of Wales (Edward VIII 1936) was a man with style much on his mind he popularised spectator shoes (or two tone shoes). These were popular in the US and were very much associated with the new music popular at the time, Jazz. Edward also broke with convention and wore suede shoes for semi-formal, town wear. Until this time suede shoes were considered the sign of a cad and bounder. Edward played golf and was of often photographed wearing his two tone brogues. These too became very popular and remain so to this day. When King George VI (1895-1952. Ruled 1936-1952). Suddenly found he had difficulty in walking up hill, his doctors diagnosed the problem as flat feet. Unfortunately the king's arches may have fallen but the man was suffering from severe intermittent claudication. The blood flow to his arteries was severely hampered due to his excessive smoking. The man poor suffered dreadful pains in his legs and died from lung cancer. The few times Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was ever seen in public not wearing high heels was on a visit to South Africa in 1946. One of her shoe heels broke and the Princess Elizabeth had to gave her walking shoes to complete the trip. Seeming the Queen to be was very dismissive of her mother's behaviour and reported to have remarked 'How typical of mummy...' Princess Diana did break a Royal tradition whereas the Queen has always dressed perfectly; she often did so without care for popular fashion. Her clothes throughout have basically remained modified, fifties fashion. The shoes represent the top of the range and are available in retail chains where they sell in the millions to the middle aged, middle class women in their millions. Diana, rather like the Queen Mother was a dedicated follower of fashion and carried a large, expensive wardrobe of designer clothing. She had shoes for all occasions from low heeled loafers to high heeled shoes in gold and silver. Jimmy Choo made shoes for Princess Diana and on the day of her death her shoe maker had an appointment to deliver handmade shoes. The Princess only wore higher heeled shoes after her divorce from the Prince, for the primary reason she was obliged to wear flat heels so as not to tower over the future king.

Concealed Shoes

The conundrum of shoes left hanging from telephone wires and their meaning has left many baffled but so too has shoes concealed in domiciles. American families have discovered a trove of old shoes hidden in house walls. Not quite an epidemic but none the less puzzling. During the Middle Ages it was commonplace to leave old shoes in roofs and attics for good luck and to ward off evil. More than a thousand concealment shoes, some dating back to the fourteenth century, have been reported in Western Europe alone. In North America concealment shoes have been reported in New England, but there have also been finds of buried shoes as far south as Virginia and far west as Missouri. Very rarely are pairs of shoes found, usually solo shoes, but many caches contain footwear from different people. Almost half the shoes concealed belonged to children with more female footwear found than males. Almost all shoes were well worn. Talisman is not restricted to shoes alone although they are commonplace. An old custom, where I come from, was to scatter coins under the carpet for good luck. Which of course meant as kids, every time mum and dad moved house we lifted the carpet. How many sceptics among us would deliberately walk under a ladder just to tempt fate. If I do I always have my fingers crossed, same goes for when you allow a pole to come between you and a friend, bad Karma, easily undone by saying “bread and butter”. First utterance on the first of the month always is “White rabbits” in our house and so it goes on. Back to shoes though. The penny loafer is a robust moccasin type shoe which had a luck penny caught in the snaffle bar just like any new purse given, as a gift should have a lucky penny within. A rare find reported recently in the US, concerned the demolition of an 18th century house where they discovered a baby's white, ankle-high shoe, some small wooden toys and some ears of corn. Since 1750 the house had undergone many additions and experts remain unclear whether the shoes were hidden at the time the chaise house was built or in a later renovation. All such shoe finds are reported now to the Northampton Shoe Museum in the UK and there they keep a register of concealed shoes. No-one has been able to explain why shoes have been used in this way. Some speculate the tradition stems from an ancient custom of killing someone then building the house over the grave, later in more enlightened days, shoes became a substitute for human sacrifice. Unlikely I think simply became shoe wearing in the very distant past was a minority sport and unless the person was fairly affluent then the chances were they went barefoot. More than likely shoes were selected because they reflected the personality of the wearer. By the Middle Ages, you still had to be pretty well off to have shoes and wearing them was status. They incorporate the spirit of a loved one and their shoe may have been kept as a form of Fen Sui. (or old shoey really). Shoe finds are usually reported near openings in the home e.g. doors, windows, chimneys etc. To the believer of the occult these are all places in the building that are vulnerable to evil. These finds indicate shoe concealment was widespread and long lasting yet it was not recorded in writing until references began to appear in mid-twentieth century archaeology literature in scholarly journals. Men being more secretive than women about such matters it fuels the theory hiding shoes was a male superstition, kept secret almost out of fear that telling about it would reduce its effectiveness. Another reason why this may not have been spoken off was it could have been construed in less enlightened times as a pagan ritual carrying severe punishment. The same superstition has been observed across the globe so for anyone out there involved in home renovation that involve removing walls especially around windows and doors, under roof rafters and behind old chimneys, be alert to the possibility of turning up concealment shoes. While most are found in eighteenth and nineteenth century homes, a find hidden as late as 1935 has been reported. If you are lucky and find concealed shoes tale a photograph as they lie because this information is as important as the shoes themselves. Then you might like to get in touch with the Northampton Shoe Museum who is documenting shoe finds.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bast Shoes

If you have the good fortune to have Russian friends or neighbours, next time you are visiting have a look for a lucky talisman many Russian families keep to fend off evil spirits. The old custom was to keep a keep a pair of bast shoes fastened to the door to fend off the evil eye. The bast shoes are basket weave, which is often miniature and filled with dried flowers. The custom dates back to the Dark Ages and of course no one is sure of its origins. One Australian often photographed wearing basket weave shoes was the former Prime Minister, Paul Keating. No idea whether he was fending off the evil eye or just wearing very comfortable shoes. How the bast came about was really through sandal making. The early Russian sandal makers would weave the sole using bast (the inner bark of the lime, larch, birch, willow and even juniper trees) and these were called Lapti. The bark was prepared by soaking a long time, and then straightened under a press. It took 3 or 4 saplings to make one pair with a double sole, these were fragile and might only last one week. Lapti were worn by the rural peasants. Bast was also used to weave shoes and these were less expensive than leather but basket not so rebust. Eventually shoemakers combined bast and leather straps to make longer lasting Lapti. From the 12-14th centuries, city dwellers wore shoes made from "cuts" of fabric, little pieces of smooth wool cloth and even of silk ribbon and these were called pleteshki (wicker/weaving). Depending on the traditions and ethnic region various weaving patterns were used (oblique, straight). The form of laptej (plural of lapti) also varied depending on locality: southern and Polesski lapti were open, while northern - "bakhili" - had the form of a narrow boot. The bast shoe was used all over European Russia, but not in Siberia. They were worn over leg wraps with the whole thing secured by straps. In the winter, furs and felt were used extensively. Felt boots were worn on the coldest, driest days. Melting snow or mud will ruin felt boots and make the wearer miserable with soaked, cold feet. But when the weather was cold and dry, felt boots remained impermeable, and provided warm footwear. Leather boots were also common. Archaeological finds support leather boots became fashionable in Russia about 14th century and were worn by young and old alike. Boots were worn by the Tatar and Mongol tribes, in the Middle Ages and shoemaking was a popular trade in Russian towns. Improved skills meant more robust boots became available by 16th century. They normally attached the wooden heel under the sole, the heel was covered by leather and the boots were worn knee-high and cut at an angle. Red boots were very popular and boots for men and women were cut alike with no allowance made for left and right. There is some evidence of specially made shoes to accommodate flat feet. (circa 16th century). By this time a multiplayer heel became fashionable in Moscow. Then, shoemakers used the heel (6-7cms) as an arch support which made walking labored. Later heel plates (crescent shaped heel protector) was nailed onto the heel. Later the calks were replaced by nail holes.

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Shoe metaphors

As early hominids took to bipedal walking two million years before they developed the brain we now accept as our own, it gave them plenty time to think on their feet. A residual aspect of our primitive existence is the inclusion of reference to the foot and shoes into our common language. So the spectrum of life is subconsciously caught from the ‘patter of tiny feet’, heralding the beginning of life to the inevitable, ‘popping your clogs’ and ending up in ‘Boothill’, in our lexicon. All languages contain more metaphoric reference to the lower limb than any other part of the human body, including the naughty wobbly bits. The foot still fascinates the bipedal primate, no matter how sophisticated and superior the species becomes, we need to concede the sage words of Bernard Breslaw “You need feet”. Life is to do with getting from A to B and from beginning to the end that depends on feet. Lets start at the very beginning when we ‘take out first step’, sure footedness is something we learn and getting there can cause our parents some concerns but once we have our foot on the first rung of life’s ladder there is no stopping us. Of course there are rules and we need to be good foot soldiers. The quicker we learn to control the Id (ego), then the more likely we become productive members of the tribe. To integrate we need to do the leg work and must be mindful not to lose our footing on the way. Trying to keep our foot out of our mouths can be a challenge at times, especially when young and impetuous, but through length of days and treading the hard road, comes understanding and the ability to listen more than talk. No one can do more harm to ourselves in life than, ourselves especially when we put our foot in it and trip over our own feet. Pick your steps wisely, is good advice. Some succeed by standing on others’ toes, but a good footnote is to remember the people you step on, on the way up the ladder, will be waiting to trip you up when you inevitably come tumbling back down. A good idea is to foot the bill and take the responsibility for your own mistakes. In life’s journey when you recognise others are taking advantage of your good nature you need to learn to say no, and put your foot down. Laying our troubles at the feet of others is the tactic of a heel. The primary function of the species is to leave our footprints in the sands of time. Hence the circle of life continues as our offspring follow in our footsteps. But let us not forget the pathway of life may not always be rosy and trouble free and hence the need to get footloose once in a while.

Pointed toed shoes; Is it a sign?

The pointed shoe for women continues to enjoy vogue in women’s fashion but has not come without controversy. The foot/shoe police were quick to vocalise their condemnation with forecasts of foot doom and deformity to all who dare wear them. Problem is there is no evidence to support these claims. Certainly discomfort may result when anyone wears tighter clothing that is comfortable. Hazards do also await the foot challenged who squeeze their feet into a triangular shaped shoes smaller than their feet, but as a shoe design, pointed shoes do not present real harm to feet. Provided feet and shoes are physically compatible and worn for short periods then no real harm can come to the wearer.

So why do pointed shoes come in for such criticism?
As a podologist I study the foot in health as well as disease and have become fascinated with the psycho-social aspects of shoe design. There are only seven basic shoe types and fashion is made from the innumerable combinations of these styles. The origins of pointed shoes are quite simple to locate and were worn in biblical times. Historians believe the style then had more to do with poor shoemaking than style per se but people who wore peaked sandals were considered ‘free spirited’. The fashion for long toed shoes became an obsession for men in the Middle Ages and lasted 400 years. For just under half a millennium, the size of men's shoes got longer and longer until they were 24 inches longer than the foot. Poulaines or beaks were thought to be used as sex toys in courtly love and have been associated with promiscuity ever since. As a style it did not reappear until 1960s with the sexual revolution. Winkle pickers along with the stiletto heels were loved by the youth of the day and met a tirade of warnings and foreboding from the (medical) establishment. Today there is no epidemiological evidence to show the Bulge (sixties generation) have more deformed feet because of their fleeting association with pointed shoes.

So why the fuss?
The medicalisation of feet and shoes is a metaphor which represents a moral backlash against promiscuity. Pointed shoe styles and high heels have become stereotypically associated with Jezebels, and appear to many misogynists as sartorial pornography. What made this all the more real was the recent pointed shoe fashion was a female phenomenon, whereas in the sixties, it affected both genders. Now power dressing for women has arrived.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

High heels, knee torque and obesity: The real deal

Research from Oxford University researchers under the direction of Oxford University public-health studies professor Ray Fitzpatrick was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in the latter part of 2003. The findings supported there was no evidence of risk that glamour-gal footwear harmed feminine knees. The reverse may be true, but conditions apply.

"A consistent finding in the analysis was a reduced risk of osteoarthritis in association with regular high-heel usage," says the report, published this week. The researchers noted, "It is very unlikely that prolonged wearing of high-heeled shoes represents a risk factor."

This conclusion treads heavily on conventional medical wisdom of the last 250 years or so, which has blamed high heels for sore backs, corns, sprained ankles, abnormal gait, ingrown toenails, shortened calf muscles and hammertoe. Historically this is a misogynistic viewpoint which has enjoyed its greatest vogue at times when women enter the workforce.

The Yale University School of Medicine Foot and Ankle Service recommend half-inch heels, while the podiatric association calls high heels "biomechanically and orthopedically unsound."

Studies have shown 2/3rds of women wear shoes smaller in volume than their anatomical foot. Women with tighter fits tend to suffer from friction, which accounts for the callous and bunions, but not in every case.

The foot police continue to promulgate the doom and despondency myth with relatively little evidence to support it, but well meant none the less. Orthopods and podiatrists tend to see a small skewed population and obviously conditions apply. Over the last five years or so there have been several similar but small studies, all of which have come to different conclusions.

The Harvard Medical School studies measured “knee torque" of high-heel wearers. Surprisingly enough the torque was about 22% and they linked it to the cause of knee arthritis. Researchers later extended the study to include sensible heels and found the torque on the knee measured 25%. Shocked and stunned they dismissed the evil high heel theory and clung instead to cause and effect. This was immediately refuted by the British Arthritic Society who was keen to reassure heels heights were only contributory in those people prone to osteoarthritis.

Another study from Medical College of Georgia found that older women lost their balance 12 percent of the time when they wore high heels. Similar works have been conducted in Australia by Stephen Lord and Hylton Menz over in Sydney and there may be more credibility here than an association with arthritis. A new trend reported relates to toe amputation as a fashion accessory. Whilst this is not new the frequency would appear to support a new phenomenon and orthopedists and surgical podiatrists have been asked to undertake elective cosmetic surgery in such numbers as to cause bioethical dilemmas.

"High heels have an allure that men may appreciate, but cannot fully understand."

As Marilyn Monroe said “I don’t know what man invented them but all women should be grateful.”

There was an even more pronounced link between regular dancing in three-inch heels and a reduced risk of knee problems. The researchers described this finding as "surprising", but said that they would not expect a larger-scale study to overturn their findings.

"Our data suggest that future research in relation to risk and prevention might usefully focus on the age at which people first undergo excessive weight gain and whether or not this gain is sustained." Certainly, becoming overweight before the age of 40 was strongly linked - with a 36-fold increase in risk - with arthritis of the knee. Researchers noted: "Most of the women had been exposed to high-heeled shoes over the years. Nevertheless, a consistent finding was a reduced risk of osteoarthritis of the knee."

Don't fret about shoes — worry about weight, they counseled. Obesity at any age is "the single most preventable risk factor," said Oxford's Mr. Fitzpatrick, who said those who were overweight by 40 pounds had 36 times the risk of developing arthritis in the knee.

Alan Jones Pop Artist

Born in Southampton, England in 1937, Alan Jones studied painting and lithography at Horsley College of Art before becoming a graduate from the Royal College of Art in 1959. He became part of the Pop Art movement and took his inspiration from the way people interacted. He was fascinated with the fusion of male and female qualities. Mail order catalogues and fetish magazines of the 40s and 50s provided him with ideas and he was one of the first artists to use commercial imagery in his paintings. Jones was truly transfixed by feet and legs which prominently feature in his works. The concept of real and false fascinated the artist as he experimented with sculpture and although he soon returned to painting many experts believe his paintings take on sculpture quality in two dimensions. Colour is also important to the artist and he mostly associates colour with gender; black and red are masculine, yellow feminine. He also uses hues to add emotional or aesthetic density to his images. Symbolism, a la Freud and Jung play key roles in many of his works with crumpled trilby or tensed tie definite male attributes. He paints modern myths of sexual identity with humour and allusion, focusing on the mystery of sex rather than attempting to explain it. His common themes of legs and high-heeled shoes represent the entire body and the artist frequently juxtaposes himself with his fantasies in a collage style, like a family album. Alan Jones could be controversial, no more so than his fibreglass female mannequins, forged as everyday furniture like tables and chairs. They were object d’art and not for functional use but did raise the ire of feminists concerned at the implied implication. Ironically these sculptures promoted more debate as to the liberated role of women more than their stereotypical constraints of misogyny. He used cut a way to reveal the mechanics beneath the outer skin. Common in anatomical graphics Jones used to display the intimate apparel and beyond. Fascinating depth the see through perspective leaves the viewer to see all.

The pocket library of art: Alan Jones London: Brockhampton Press 1997

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Big Shoes

When Danny Eskenazi was growing up in Seattle, USA, he often visited his grandfather's shoe store. For nearly 30 years, Isaac Eskenazi kept a pair of giant boots in the window. The shoes belonged to Robert Wadlow, an 8-foot-11-inch tall man who travelled on the lecture circuit in the 1930s and stopped in Seattle at the Pantages Theater. Wadlow suffered acromegaly and was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as a giant. Acromegaly is a condition caused by increased secretion of growth hormone after normal growth has been completed and occurs in adults. When excessive secretion of growth hormone occurs in children before normal growth has been completed, it causes gigantism rather than acromegaly. The cause of the increased hormone secretion is usually a benign pituitary tumour. The pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain, controls the production and release of several different hormones. There are no known risk factors other than prior history of a pituitary tumour. Acromegaly occurs in 6 out of 100,000 people. You may recall Ian Thrope, the Australian swimmer was accused of taking hormonal supplements which were thought to increase the size of his feet. There was no substance to the accusation and “the Torpedo” just was a big laddie. His tight fitting swim suit made his bits look bigger. Anyway back to Robert Wadlow, his life was tragically short and he died very young aged 22. His demise was brought on by an infected foot blister, so there is a warning to us all. Maybe his shoes were too small for him, in any event when Isaac Eskenazi relocated his store in the 1960s; big Wadlow’s boots mysteriously disappeared. Young Danny has spent his life in search of the Holy Grail of Giant Shoes. To this day, he continues to look and there is even a $1,000 (US) reward for the return of Wadlow's boots. Meantime Danny has acquired a collection of giant shoes which in 1997, he generously donated to the new Giant Shoe Museum (Old Seattle Paperworks). A particular unique feature about this collection is it appears in a coin-op museum. For a dollar's worth of quarters you can see three of the peep shoe exhibits. The museum is sponsored by the Society for the Preservation of Oversize Footwear which is one of Seattle's most exclusive clubs. Makes you wonder what these people do for a life. Most of the exhibits are too large for anyone to have worn and likely were made as displays for shoe manufacturers. Now if you are in Cambridge Street, Perth, Western Australia you might like to visit the premises of Perth Surgical Shoemakers & Wembley Shoes. Not just because they are very nice people, that is taken for granted, but because there is on display the biggest shoe in Australia. According to the Guinness Book of Records the world’s largest shoe was made by Zahit Okurlar. It measured 3.12m. (10-ft. 2.8-in.) long, 1.05m. (3-ft. 5.5-in.) wide, and 1.23m. (4-ft. 0.8-in.) high. The shoe was exhibited at the Konya International Shoe Fair. Okurlar started making the shoe in August 1999, creating a mould made from foam, wood-dust, and gypsum glue, modelled from a size 41 shoe. The upper part of the shoe was stuck to the leather sole before being hand-sewn. A five-meter (16-ft. 6-in.) long shoelace was used. Okurlar used three complete cow hides to make the sole and had to knock down a wall of his third floor workshop to winch the shoe down.

Red Shoes

In the ancient world all dye stuffs were natural. Some were easily attainable whilst others were very rare or time consuming and difficult to produce. Dyestuffs were traded as commodities. The most difficult colour to achieve was purple (Tyrian Purple – Phoencians of Tyre) and was made from shellfish. In the ancient world the premium colours were purple, blue and bright shades of red. Wearing exotic and rare items became a proclamation of status and at times when greater wealth was abroad, sumptuary laws were passed to restrict colours to social rank. Throughout modern history a growing middle class would flaunt these laws by slashing their outer clothing to reveal banned materials and colours as underclothing. Eventually the importance of colour lost its status sufficiently now we hardly give it thought. The cardinals selecting the new pope behind the closed doors of the Sistine Chapel sported red leather shoes. No one appears to know the exact origins of red papal shoes although but they became very popular in the 17th & 18th Century. The red shoes are thought to be based upon imperial red/purple shoes. Exclusive rights to wear imperial "purple" belonged to the emperors long before the origins of Christianity but as the Christian faith grew, emperors did bestow many privileges upon the Popes including the right to wear imperial insignia and colours about their dress. (Donation of Constantine 750-800). At first all popes wore black sandals then circa 1290, they took to wearing socks with their thongs. Some socks were violet (Hyacinth colour), the trendy liturgical colour of the time but as the years passed red socks became common. The red socks were not symbolic but instead a natural consequence of rich imported luxury of all kind. By the time of Nicolas V (15th century), shoes had replaced sandals and the only difference between the Pope and his bishops was the former had the right to have a cross on their shoes. This relates to kissing the Pope’s feet as a mark of respect and refers to foot washing. According to early renaissance paintings the elite feet of the Vatican were encased in beautiful red shoes. High ecclesiastics distanced themselves from the common masses by conspicuous refinement and extravagant ornamentation. Although priests occupied an important position in ancient societies, they almost invariably performed their offices, barefoot. This was thought to have been an outward and visible sign of their inward, humility and purity. Clerical sandals were simple and devoid of any fashion and symbolised the cleric's separation from worldly vanities. With the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the barbarian invasions, craftsmanship declined in Europe. Common people went barefoot or wore rough clogs. During the Dark Ages shoes were crude protection with little emphasis given to fashion. "Sovereign's law" promulgated by Charlemagne (742-814 AD) required clerics to wear sandals when celebrating mass. Many medieval priests and Franciscan monks wore wooden sandals as a sign of disregard for material luxury. On pilgrimages many went barefoot out of choice to do penance for their sins, whilst others wore sandals as a token gesture. The origins of sexy red shoes probably mirror the ecclesiastical rise and would be cheekily worn by the ladies of the day. This had as much to do with emerging fashion and availability of sumptuous clothing as it did with irreverence. However as condemnation of women and marginalization of courtesans progressed, Jezebel shoes would become stereotypical and eventually glorified in 20th century Hollywood. When a Pope dies, the Pontiff’s body lies in state dressed in his funeral garments, which consist of a white cassock, scarlet chasuble (long sleeveless liturgical vestment) and red silk shoes. Seems to be some confusion however as to whether Pope John Paul II wore red shoes or brown shoes. Many believe he broke with the tradition and wore brown shoes given to him by a friend as a Christmas present. By this action it is thought he was expressing his identity with common people, so typical of the man.

If the shoe fits....

Everyone knows choosing the right shoes can be a hard decision. Common sense would indicate choosing shoes with wide heels would appear more beneficial than those with a narrow base. However resent research would indicate women are making the wrong choice and wide heeled shoes are more likely to do harm than good. It appears walking in wide-heeled shoes increases the pressure on the inside of the knee by 26%, while stilettos increase the pressure by 22%. Either way, according to experts, heels probably contribute to inconvenient knee pain. Not prolonged problems such as osteoarthrosis (arthritis) but more likely to be niggling soreness. The foot police have for centuries tried to connect shoes with sore feet. Shoes may have contributed by not fitting the foot well enough or being inadequate to support the foot during activity but in truth shoes have never been the primary cause of serious foot problems. Despite the rhetoric to the contrary. Common sense would lead us to realise shoes need to be able to fit and protect the foot. Fashion on the other hand has a propensity to exaggerate and often styles reflect a san faire an attitude to convention. In other words some styles are deliberate in their attempt to display the impossible. Why is this so? Well according to fashion experts it has much to do with one upmanship. No matter how ludicrous it appears to the uninitiated, the cool costume exudes elitism. Take for example kids who wear very expensive trainers designed to protect the foot during periods of intense activity. Many will sport these with the laces deliberately left undone. Yes, it annoys the hell out of parents and teachers but also clearly sends a message shard by youth. "It will never happen to me.!" We all did it, or if not outwardly then we consciously suppressed the desire to do it. But through length of days comes understanding. I well recall when my own children, who followed the fashion dictates of the eighties and Bros. The blonde duo from London who spent a fortune on their credit cards before disappearing into rock star oblivion. The boys sported Beck's beer tops in their trainer laces. Needless to say I have to change my favourite tipple to accommodate the need for suitable beer tops to adorn my children (and their friends) shoes. Not new of course and fifties kids would be only too familiar with the penny loafer, where a lucky penny was included in the shoe design. My own favourite was Joe Cocker at Woodstock who had a silverstar on his boots.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Shoe Buckles: A brief history

At the time of the American War of Independence men wore shoe buckles. Often these remain the only surviving artifact of the shoe when buried in the ground for years. Now shoe buckle collections have become highly prized by collectors but also are used by historians to date military campsites and battlefields. Distinctive workmanship, even in military style can pin point origin of source. The majority of buckles were made in England and exported to the colonies. Buckles became coveted trophies of manliness and were displayed with pride as they were handed down through families. Sometimes made in semi precious metals they were often displayed on belts, like horse brasses. Later these were worn around the waste. The belt buckle developed from the large shoe buckle and incorporated military design. These were impractical for working drovers but eventually found a prominent place in modern cowboy outfit. The larger than life style was popularised by the celluloid heroes of early Hollywood. Manufacturers eagerly catered for the growing vogue by producing fancy sterling and gold buckles for both men and women. The fashion zenith for glamorous belt and shoe buckles was in the 1930s. Shoe buckles were originally worn by monks in the Dark Ages, but flamboyant cavaliers looked to wear ostentatious footwear they rediscovered the buckle. Sartorially this starkly contrasted with Puritans wore plain clothes including footwear without decoration. The plain look lasted for the duration of Oliver Cromwell reign but a resurgence of finery came during the Restoration brought the buckle back into fashion. Initially shoe roses replaced these, about 1675. Made of the finest materials, trimmed with gold lace, pearls and spangles, roses grew to enormous proportions. Finally the buckle returned and although sober by comparison these were made from the metal titania and soon became the symbol of wealth. The shoes of men of distinction of the 18th century were found on the end of tights, during this time shoe jewellery reached its zenith. The demand for shoe buckles was enormous and the industry was centred on Birmingham, England, where it employed thousands. Dandies openly boasted of owning fifty or more different types of buckles. Silver or gold gilt buckles were popular everyday wear with bejellewed fasteners kept for special occasions. Jewelers and shoemakers were challenged to keep up with demands for novelty designs. Street robberies were common and many men took to wearing costume jeweled buckles. Marconis continued to sport precious metal trimmed buckles and had their heels fitted with metal tips to give an audible click as they fearlessly strolled along the cobbled streets. The demise of the buckle for men coincided with the French Revolution when conservative laces (shoe string) replaced ostentatious buckles, bows and roses. Ironically lacing shoes had been considered too effeminate for the macho, mincing Dandies and Macaronis but now the style became ubiquitous because to wear anything else might suggest privilege. Meantime women's shoes which had been simple heelless slippers made from sumptuous materials began to be decorated with semi precious stones and buckles.

Ball JD Costume Jewelers: The golden age of design
Western Buckles (
Calver & Bolton History Written with Pick and Shovel.
Grimms J L Archaeological Investigation of Fort Ligonier Fort Ligonier Association, Ligonier, PA 15658 (724) 238-9701.
Neuman and Kravic Collector’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution.
Western Buckles (
Wright T 1922 The romance of the shoe being the history of shoemaking London: Farncombe & Sons.

Shoes and sex

“If ever a shoe style represented a symbol of social status then the long toed shoe of the Middle Ages remains unsurpassed. The fashion lasted for four centuries, unbroken.”

Footwear throughout history has supplied a social ritual, the knowledge of which indicated, breeding and status. The wealthy classes of the Middle Ages indulged their superiority by wearing sumptuous clothing and shoes became symbols, serving to indicate standards of conduct as well as emotional states. During the High Middle Ages fashion took a bizarre turn and the glitterati of European courts wore poulaines or, very long toed shoes. As the centuries passed, men’s footwear grew longer and longer until they were 24” longer than the feet they protected. Normal walking was impossible and young dandies stiffened their peaks with moss and grass ensuring the true purpose of the shoe dildos was obvious. Despite the fashion’s longevity no rational explanation has ever been proffered to explain the phenomenon. In the spirit of zeitgeist the author attempts to now fill that void. The fashion began at the same time the first Crusaders were returning from the Holy Lands (The First Crusade, 1095–99).

As European society emerged from the Dark Ages, high culture prevailed in the Empire of Islam which extended from India to Spain. When the two cultures clashed Knights were surprisingly impressed by the sophistication of the mystic culture of the Sufis. For centuries the Sufis developed a mystical path of love where the sensual and the spiritual came bonded in an ecstatic way. It was never clear whether the poet was praising a human beloved or the divine beloved or one shining through the other. Modern scholars acknowledge the influence of Islam formed the basis for European Chivalry and Courtly Love. The conventions of courtly love taught young men to sublimate their desires and channel their energies into socially useful behaviour. To do otherwise might have threatened social stability especially at a time when feudal lords and knights were engaged in the Crusades. For people to break these taboos only reinforces the strength and drive for sexual pleasure which transcend any moral precept.

Courtly Love
Courtly love flourished in the early 12th century during the cultural renaissance that followed the first Crusades. It involved the passionate devotion of lover and loved one. The relationship was always illicit i.e. the woman was the wife of another, often a lord or patron and its consummation was virtually impossible. The high minded ideas about romance spread when troubadours sang openly of love’s joys and heartbreaks in daringly personalised terms, extolling the ennobling effects of the lover’s’ selfless devotion. The troubadours (the term is derived from the Arabic word 'tare', meaning musical enchantment) promoted a love yearned for, and at times rewarded by, the solace of every delight of the beloved except physical possession by intercourse. Courts of Love were held to publicise the rules of love and the ladies who presided at the courts taught society about the new way to live and love.

Domnei & Donnoi
The aristocrats of Provencal idealized got married for political reasons but upheld two "intimate ceremonies" as a form of courtship. Domnei or woman worship was a custom where the would-be suitor gazed on the partly or fully undressed lady; and Donnoi was when the couple lay naked together sometimes separated by a pillow. The test was the lover had to prove his depth of love by avoiding intercourse. This was sensual, carnal and openly encouraged the delights of kissing and embracing. The sight of a beloved’s nudity and the touching of her body provoked desire. Under these circumstances it would be no stretch of the imagination to work out what gainful employ a 24" long extension on the foot might be put towards. Indeed at a public banquet an average sized adult male with two 24 " long extensions on his feet could keep three women perfectly happy under the table, leaving his hands free to enjoy a health repast.

Long Toed Shoes

The fashion lasted four centuries and although it ebbed and waned in that time, the length of shoes got longer until the style was abruptly halted in the early 15th century. Through its zenith, shoe length was subject to papal condemnation as well as sumptuary laws which always restricted excesses to the less wealthy. Despite this the fashion remained even although it caused men to walk unnaturally and ungainly with a wide based, high stepping gait. A particular fad of the young nobles who attended the court of William Rufus was to wear shoes with long tapering points like scorpions’ tails. Orderic Vitalis was an English born monk who spent the whole of his religious life in the Norman Abbey of Evroul and recorded much of the social events of his time and according recorded a fool in the court called Robert was the first to stuff the points of his shoes with flax so they could be curled back in the form of a ram’s horn. He was subsequently given the ribald nickname Cornadus, meaning ‘Horner” or Horny.

Symptoms of Tertiary Syphilis
The same pattern of movement is seen in tabes dorsalis, a sequestrate of tertiary syphilis where spirochetes destroys the central nervous system. Syphilitic myelopathy is a disorder characterized by muscle weakness and abnormal sensations caused by untreated syphilis infections. Loss of proprioception causes coordination difficulties which contribute to problems of wide based walking. The same infection causes widespread damage to the nerves of the brain and results in personality changes, mood changes, hyperactive reflexes, abnormal mental function including hallucinations and delusions, decreased intellectual functioning, and speech changes. This is known as General paralysis of the insane and typically begins about 15-20 years after the original syphilis infection.
The Court Jester

"When the king was a syphilitic semi-imbecile, a jester even more grotesque may have served as a useful stage prop, disarming criticism by making the king look more nearly normal by comparison and thus making the make-believe of kingship possible."

(Willeford, 1969 p156).

Syphilis was long been thought to be a disease introduced to Europe in the 15th century (carried by Christopher Columbus’s crew). Hence historians have had no reason to seek evidence of its existence prior to this date. Recent discoveries of human remains in Hull, England, have revealed syphilitic pitting and the bones have these have been carbon dated to the 11th century. The presence of the pox and the knowledge of its transmission would give reason to influence sexual practices.
Safe sex
The urge to prevent pregnancy was actively and creatively pursued since Onan spilled his seed (Genesis). Pre modern peoples of Europe regulated family size and women in antiquity had significant control over their reproductive lives. From ancient times a foreign object placed in the uterus was thought to prevented pregnancy and in periods when marriage was delayed it has been assumed that masturbation was an outlet. Until the Middle Ages women practiced birth control with little interference from religious or civil authorities. In courtly love shoe shaped dildos may have been used as sex toys and/or a means of physical contraception used after intercourse. The long shoe style may also have provided protection from sexually transmitted disease and or masked the symptoms. In a similar manner in Oriental Society, sexualisation of the Lotus Foot may have been for the same reasons.
Foot sex
The association between feet and sex is found no clearer than in the Orient. The origins of foot binding are clouded although aesthetic appreciation of the small foot was present in early Chinese literature. Documentation of the foot binding starts from the 10th Century. Maintaining the Lotus foot (3” long) ensured hypersensitivity of the foot arch and forced the child to walk with small steps. Deportment was important and thought to increase the labial folds and muscle tone of the pelvic floors. The vagina was tight for life and the soles of the feet became second vaginas. Pedal sex was contemporary in the ancient world.

But what global event would cause two diverse societies separated by thousands of miles and eons of culture to adopt such a curious preoccupation with feet and sex? It had to be disease.

Fact or fantasy
What I have just recounted is conjecture, and in the absence of written evidence must remain so. Whether shoes became sex toys by necessity and sexualisation of the foot, a focus for safe sex, will never be clear. However something strange did happened in the 11th century and this has influenced our sexual behaviours to date. As an anthropologist/sociologist who studies the foot in health and disease, I could not finish this presentation without a foot note. The end of the fashion for long toed shoes came abruptly in the early 15th century. From contemporary paintings, the only evidence available, the style was quickly replaced by shoes which were so broad across the ball if the foot as to boast of individual compartments for each toe. The podiatrist’s delight was called Bears Paws. The same style is seen today in post surgical moon boots used to support and protect injured tissue. One other outcome of neurosyphilis is Charcot foot where trophic ulceration decimates the sole of the foot making walking in anything other than shoe boxes, impossible. By the 16C a new class of courtiers had emerged and deportment took on social significance where appearance reflected moral attitudes. Clothing became more rigid, to impose a standard form.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

10,000 Years of Shoes: The Photographs of Brian Lanker

"10,000 Years of Shoes: The Photographs of Brian Lanker" is edited by Jon Erlandson and Sarah McClure is produced by the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Orego and explores the form, function, history and diversity of shoes. The book is illustrated through out by Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist, Brian Lanker . The book connects the museum's famed collection of 10,000-year-old sagebrush bark sandals with the innovations in running shoes developed by Bill Bowerman, Phil Knight and Nike. The book is written for a general audience and includes contributions from Thomas Connolly (director of archaeological research at the museum), Jon M Erlandson (museum director) , Petr Hlavacek (professor of shoe technology at Tomas Bata University in the Czech Republic) and Kenny Moore (Olympian). Currently the book can be purchased at Past and Presents, at the museum's store, for $34.99. In January, the book will be made available for wider distribution.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Shoes for Show: the Sculptural Art of High Heels

A new exhibition Shoes for Show: the Sculptural Art of High Heels, opens soon in London. The exhibition features a display of the crazy, beautiful and downright unwearable shoes from past to present . The exhibition's curator, Shonagh Marshall says ‘shoes can blur the boundary between art and fashion.’ On display will be Beyonce's 'medieval armour' shoes (as worn in the video, Run the World (Girls) which were created by Gareth Pugh. Also in the exhibition is a pair of gold platform sandals designed by Rupert Sanderson for Verdi's Aida at the Royal Opera House; there too is Christian Louboutin’s en pointe Swarovski-encrusted ballet stilettos; as well as a pair of Turkish bath shoes with wooden platform soles (dating from 1890). The clogs are inlaid with mother of pearl embroidery. By far the oldest exhibit is on loan from the Northampton museum's shoe collection. The "prize shoe" dates to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and is a finely embroidered shoe with four-inch heel and were made to showcase the talent of its anonymous maker rather than actually be worn.

Shoes for Show: the Sculptural Art of High Heels is on at the Loading Bay, 91 Brick Lane, London, E1, from 4 – 8 November.

Friday, September 9, 2011

2011 Nike MAG: Charity Auction

Who could forget Marty Mcfly (Michael J. Fox ) in Back To The Future II with his light up kicks with their self locking lace system. Millions of fans of the movie and sneakerheads have been waiting with bated breath for Nike to produce these commercially. They even started an on-line petition which has now come to fruition and the shoes called Marty McFly Hyperdunks, are available, albeit on limited edition. The new shoes are not quite the same as the originals (which might disappoint some), but they do look very similar. The colourway of the air-pressurized auto-lacing mechanised shoes is as the originals with a grey base, speckled outsole, light blue highlights and the number 2015 stamped on the tongue. The subtle blue netting sets these apart from the other Hyperdunks and they demonstrate the new buzz in the footwear industy which is enduring and lightweight materials. Nike designer, Tinker Hatfield (shoe designer) and footwear innovator Tiffany Beers have recreated the footwear legend with the 2011 Nike MAG. These feature an electroluminescent outsole, space-age materials and have a rechargeable internal battery which is good for 3,000 hours. The kicks are not recommended for playing sports, but they will make for good blue chip investments. Previously Nike did patent a self lacing apparatus but that trechnology is still in the future. However and the new hyerdunks are supposed to be ‘as good as it gets’. The shoes have been endorsed by Kobe Bryant. Which is a strange choice since Bryant is not the most popular fellow in basketball and certainly no match for Michael Jordan. I am sure the lightweight kicks will lift him above all that. On Thursday the company released 1500 pairs for auction on eBay (150 pairs per day) and the money raised will go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's disease research.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

God save my shoes

Director: Julie Benasra

The documentary explores the complex and often fascinating world of women and their relationship to their footwear. The originall idea came from for the film’s producer Thierry Daher ( “Just For Kicks” a history of sneakers through hip hop) who thought a psycho-social profile of woemn and their shoes would also be interesting. Thierry invited Julie to direct it and she travelled the world interviewing shoe lovers, designers and experts (but not me ?). On screen interviews include Elizabeth Semmelhak (curator at the Bata Museum), shoe designer, Christian Louboutin, shoe collector, Beth Shak, and burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese, among others. Interesting insight into the shoe psychology.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

Shoe Auction for Peace

Peter Gray drew international media attention when he threw his shoes at the former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard during Q&A (ABC) last year. He threw the shoes to protest Australia's decision to join the US led invasion of Iraq which overthrew the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein.

Sadly, not long after, Peter Gray died after a long battle with cancer. Before his death he asked his shoes be auctioned to raise money for the International Committee for the Red Cross and its work in Iraq. Former Prime Minister Howard was saddened to hear of Peter’s passing and he has endorsed the proposal to sell the shoes for charity.

The auction opens on Friday. For more informatiuon call the Red Cross on 1800 811 700.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Vivienne Westwood Shoes, An Exhibition: 1973 – 2011: On tour

The "Vivienne Westwood Shoes, An Exhibition: 1973 – 2011" was launched in London, where it met a huge success. Already seen in Moscow it opens in the Lebanon, at the Linda Sursock Palace in Gemmayzeh, Beirut, before take off to Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo through 2011, then to New York and Los Angeles in 2012. The exhibition will showcase around 100 shoe designs and trace the exceptional success of Dame Westwood’s career to date. Illustrating her defiance of the rules of wearability and convention, the exhibition is also evidence of her uncompromising quest for superb craftsmanship and attention to detail. Westwood’s designs are a result of considered and distinctive influences - 16th Century Dutch Delft pottery as the inspiration for her 1996 Toile Print Boot, British colonialism reflected in the Sahara Plimsoll of 1999, Victorian dandyism influencing the 1996 Trompe l’Oeil Boot and Westwood’s nurse inspired 15.5 centimetre heel Mary Janes of Erotic Zones a salute to S/M and fetishism. Her shoes have also gained a reputation and created memorable fashion moments - the tumbling of Naomi Campbell when wearing the Super Elevated Gillie on the catwalk in 1993, the Rocking Horse which became an instant collectible when it appeared in 1986 and her Pirate Boots, first seen in 1981 but remain popular and in demand to the present day.

Supporting Vivienne Westwood’s travelling shoe exhibition, DHL is the official exhibition logistics partner for the duration of the world wide tour.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Shoe collectors: Caroline Cox recommends ebay

Caroline Cox is a fashion historian, and author of Vintage Shoes and Stiletto. She began collecting vintage shoes as a punk teenager. Unfortunately not quite realizing the value then, of the easy pickup able collectables, she wore them until they fell apart. Now wiser she has greater respect for vintage shoes. According to the fashion expert she rates Salvatore Ferragamo’s experimental designs of the 1940s and Roger Vivier designs for Dior in the 1950s as blue chip investments. Vivienne Westwood 80s shoes are imminently collectable and Terry de Havilland’s seventies wedges are a must have for the serious collector. Caroline Cox believes there are plenty of bargains still to be had in second hand shoes. She recommends lots of research and swears by eBay as a great source for finding shoe advertisements and magazines and other images. The author highly rates Louboutin, Chanel and Manolo Blahnik for their great re-sale value and personally values shoes designed by Tokio Kumagai.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shoe & Boot Making and Repairing Historic Book Collection on CD

The history and evolution of shoemaking is a fascinating story. The Shoe & Boot Making and Repairing Historic Book Collection on CD contains 34 books which outline the history of shoemaking from its earliest days in ancient Egypt to the early 1900s. The collection covers fascinating facts about the manufacture and repair of shoes and boots, evolution of footwear styles through the ages and a variety of early 20th century shoe and boot catalogues showcasing the styles of the era. The CD runs on all Windows and Macintosh computers. (Web browser and Adobe Acrobat Reader are required - available for free download). The book index is organized in an HTML menu that is compatible with all browsers and the books themselves are in PDF format to allow them to be universally accessed. All the books are printable - either individual pages or the entire book.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Biodegradable Kicks

Dutch footwear company, OAT’s have introduced a fully biodegradable sneaker in their Virgin collection. According to the founder and industrial designer Christiaan Maats, OAT’s mission is to connect people with their environment in an imaginative way. The biodegradable kicks are made from soft, breathable canvas and flexible cork soles embedded with seeds.The Virgin collection includes men’s and women’s versions, as well as unisex models in natural hues and classic lines. OAT will debut the Virgin collection in Europe come spring, with a limited 900-piece run.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Buy the shoes: See the show

Richard Thomas Stephen Mear's Shoes

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shoe Charity: Re-use Your Shoes

Re-use Your Shoes is a charitable group in Bucks County with drop boxes to collect donations of unwanted shoes. They accept shoes in any condition. Good, wearable shoes are passed to people in need. Shoes deemed “beyond wearable” are donated to Nike’s recycling program. Nike grinds up the soles of sneakers to make a material used for playground bases. Each month, the organization donates more than 6,000 pairs of shoes to local organizations. Beneficiaries include the Bethesda Project, a men’s homeless shelter in Philadelphia, and Laurel House, a sanctuary for female domestic abuse victims and their children in Norristown. Additionally, Libertae, is a program that helps women transition to the work force after overcoming drug addiction, receives dress shoes so the women have appropriate attire to wear to job interviews.

Monday, January 10, 2011