Shoes don’t seem like they’d be so important to fashion. After all, they’re way down there on your feet, right on the ground.
But it seems that, while they may be at the bottom of the outfit, they rank pretty high in fashion — and it seems people have always thought so, all over the world, and even thousands of years ago!
It turns out that throughout history, millions of other people — men as well as women — have loved shoes as much as we do today.
And just like today, they painstakingly designed and decorated them, and even used them as status symbols.
Shoes are one of the most necessary items of clothing, too, as they protect the feet from the elements and keep them safe. Not having shoes is a major problem, and one that people still face today, like one homeless woman on the subway.
Check out some of the shoes that have been worn by people all over the world, and let us know in the comments below which is your favorite pair!
In the beginning, there was the sandal…
Perfect for warm climates, simple sandals like these Egyptian ones from about 1200 BCE could be made from reeds or leather.
These are missing their strap, but they would have been just like today’s flip-flops.
But as time went on, shoes became more and more elaborate.
These look like modern flats, but they were actually made in the 400s! The leather shoes come from Egypt and were buried with a woman.
Coptic Christians in this period dressed their dead in their finest to prepare for the afterlife — much like their ancient ancestors.
An embellished toe was a sign of wealth.
A curly toe was all the rage for men in the 1400s.
This one is metal, but some were made of whale bone, and they could get so long that they sometimes needed to be tied to the leg so the wearer could walk.
The heel-less look was actually an old idea.
Teetering heel-less pumps have been very popular in our century, but they’re actually an old design.
Called chopines, these platform precursors were all the rage in the 1500s and 1600s in Italy.
And extremity is nothing new, either.
The designs could get pretty wild, and the height determined the wearer’s level of fashionability.
Shoes like this were also a status symbol. You obviously weren’t toiling in the fields if you were wearing shoes like this!
Even little kids wore heels!
This is a pair of children’s shoes from the early 1600s.
Some shoes symbolized one’s social class.
This beautiful sequined slipper features a hintha bird, which was worn only by the Buddhist kings in what is now Myanmar.
This shoe dates from the 1750s to the 188os, to the last Burmese dynasty.
In the 1700s, colorful shoes were all the rage.
High society shoes features embroidery and decoration in all kinds of colors, and heels were worn by both men and women.
They could be found all over Europe.
Most ladies’ shoes featured a floral decoration, a small heel, and a pointed toe.
And men wore them, too.
Flowers and delicate embroidery weren’t just for the ladies, either. In the 1700s, especially in France, men got just as dolled up as women, shoes included.
Later, shoes got simpler.
The ornate fashions of the 1700s gave way to a simpler, more romantic style in the early 1800s, and shoes followed suit. Plain but dainty slippers like this became all the rage.
A little customization helped anyone be fashionable.
These shoes had a very practical secret. The embroidery could be taken out and restitched to match any gown!
Because of their color-changing abilities, they were called “chameleon shoes.”
Getting the perfect shoe could be dangerous business…
These dainty lavender booties from the 1860s are hiding a dark secret: the dye used to get this pretty purple color contained arsenic, and they would have given the wearer’s feet a rash. But people loved the poison for the brilliant colors it made as a dye.
People have always liked height. A lot.
Platforms and spike heels are nothing new. It seems people have always wanted to be taller.
These Syrian or Turkish stilt shoes from the 1700s or 1800s are made of wood and mother-of-pearl, and probably took some practice!
People seriously suffered for fashion.
In China, foot binding was an excruciating ordeal undergone by women for over a thousand years.
As children, their feet would actually be broken and then bound so they would remain tiny.
Tiny shoes were made for them, but they would have trouble walking for the rest of their lives.
When it was outlawed, tons of tiny shoes went unsold.
Eventually, foot binding died out, and the shoe market in China had to change.
The tiny lotus shoes, like these from the late 19th century, became relics of an old way of life.
Shoes tell the story of historical events.
Dating from the 1880s, this pair of Huron moccasins shoes some amazing craftsmanship.
It also shows that whoever made them traded for European-made glass beads and wool, noting a meeting of two cultures.
Fancy embellishments can be found all over the world.
It seems people everywhere loved decorating their shoes with shiny and colorful decorations. These 19th-century shoes from Armenia show just that.
Do you think you’d like to try any of these historical shoes?
SHARE these ancient fashions with your shoe-crazed friends, and start planning your next shopping spree!