In most early civilizations, sandals were the most common footwear, however, a few early cultures had more substantial shoes. But shoes in ancient—and even not so ancient—civilizations had some major design differences than their modern-day counterparts. In fact, as late as the 1850s, most shoes were constructed on absolutely straight lasts (foot-shaped forms on which shoes were constructed and repaired), which meant that the right and the left shoes were pretty much the same. On the upside, that would make them interchangeable. On the downside, they were likely a lot less comfortable.
Shoes in the BC
In Mesopotamia, circa 1600 to 1200 BC, mountain people living on the border of Iran wore a type of soft shoes made of wraparound leather that was similar to a moccasin. Egyptians began making shoes from woven reeds as early as 1550 BC. Worn as overshoes, they were boat-shaped and had straps constructed of long, thin reeds covered by wider strips of the same material. Shoes in this style were still being made as late as the 19th century. Meanwhile, in China, shoes made from layers of hemp, circa the final century BC, were made in a process similar to quilting and featured decorative as well as functional stitching.
Circa 43-450 AD
Roman sandals are believed to be the first footwear specifically designed to fit the foot. Constructed with cork soles and leather straps or lacing, sandals were the same for men and women. Some military sandals known as caligae used hobnails to reinforce the soles. The imprints and patterns they left behind could be read as messages.
Circa 937 AD
Foot binding was a practice introduced in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) that became increasingly popular in China during the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD). Starting at age 5 to 8, the bones in girls' feet were broken and then tightly wrapped to prevent growth. The ideal for women's feet was modeled after the lotus blossom and was decreed to be no more than three to four inches in length. Girls with tiny, highly arched feet were prized as prime marriage material—but the crippling practice left many of them barely able to walk.
These tiny feet were adorned with dainty shoes constructed of silk or cotton and richly embroidered. Chinese women of the upper classes were often buried with many pairs of such shoes. While several bans were imposed on the practice (the first by Emperor Chun Chi of the Manchu dynasty in 1645 and the second by Emperor K’ang Hsi in 1662), foot-binding remained a common practice in China into the early 20th century.
Pointy-tipped Poulianes (“shoesin the Polish fashion”) became popular in the middle ages and continued to come and go until the early 15th century.
Circa 1350 to 1450
Pattens were overshoes worn to protect them from the elements and filthy street conditions. They were similar in function to more modern galoshes, except that pattens were made in the same shape as the shoes they were fitted over.
1450 to 1550
During the Renaissance, shoe fashions evolved from vertical lines favored by Gothic styles to become more horizontal. Nowhere was this more evident than in the toe shape. The richer and more powerful the wearer, the more extreme and broad the squared toe became. However, while squared toed shoes were prevalent, during this time, round-toed shoes began to emerge. Round-toed shoes were considered a more practical choice for children, however, even some adult shoes of the Tudor period featured the round profile.
During the mid-17th century, shoe fashions for men were mostly square-toed, however, it was at this time that the fork toe design debuted. Chopines, backless shoes or slippers featuring high platform soles, became popular throughout Renaissance Europe thanks to a revival in ancient Greek culture. The most notable examples from the period come from Spain (where the platforms were sometimes constructed from cork) and Italy. Men, as well as women, wore slip-on indoor slides known as mules, which were available in a variety of materials and colors and featured a slightly flared heel.
In 1660, with the restoration of Charles II to the throne of France, fashions from the French courts grew in popularity across the Channel. Red heels, a style allegedly created for Charles himself, came into vogue and remained there well into the next century.
In the 18th century, shoes for upper-class women, such as salon mules, initially took shape as boudoir fashion but evolved into day and even dancewear. The erotically charged footwear was favored by Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV of France, who was in huge part responsible for the trend. Unfortunately, elegant shoes of the day were constructed of materials such as silk that rendered them inappropriate for outdoor use and as a result, pattens(also known as clogs) made a big comeback, especially in big cities, such as London, that had yet to deal with the unsanitary conditions of its streets.
Fast Facts: Shoe Laces
- Prior to shoestrings, shoes were commonly fastened with buckles.
- Modern shoestrings, which employed strings laced through shoe holes and then tied, were invented in England in 1790 (first recorded date, March 27).
- An aglet (from the Latin word for "needle") is a small plastic or fiber tube used to bind the end of a shoelace, or similar cord, to prevent fraying and to allow the lace to be passed through an eyelet or another opening.
In the 1780s, a fascination with all things “Oriental” led to the introduction of shoes with upturned toes known as Kampskatcha slippers. (While billed as an homage to Chinese fashion, they more closely resembled Juttis, the upturned slippers worn by affluent female members of the court of the Mughal Empire.) From the 1780s through the 1790s, the height of heels gradually decreased. With the approach of the French Revolution (1787-99), excess was seen with increasing disdain, and less became more.
19th Century Styles
In 1817, the Duke of Wellington commissioned the boots that would become synonymous with his name. Streamlined and free of ornamentation, “Wellies” became all the rage. The rubberized version, still popular today, was introduced in the 1850s by the North British Rubber Company. In the following decade, the family shoemaking firm of C & J Clark Ltd was founded and remains one of England's leading shoe manufacturers.
Prior to 1830, there was no difference between right and left shoes. French shoemakers came up with the idea of placing little labels on the insoles of shoes: “Gauche” for the left, and “Droit” for the right. While the shoes were still both straight in shape, since the French style was considered the height of fashion, other countries were quick to emulate the trend.
In 1837 by J. Sparkes Hall patented the elastic side boot, which allowed them to be put on and taken off much more easily than those that required buttons or laces. Hall actually presented a pair of them to Queen Victoria, and the style remained popular through the end of the 1850s.
By the 1860s, flat, squared-toed shoes featuring side lacing were de rigeur. This left the front of the shoes free for decoration. Rosettes were a popular embellishment of the day for women’s shoes. In the mid- to late-1800s unassembled shoes made with flat sheets of woven straw were produced in Italy and sold across Europe and in America to be put together as shoemakers saw fit.
In the mid-1870s, the Manchu people of China (who did not practice foot binding) favored platform shoes that were the precursors to 20th-century fashion styles. Hoof-shaped pedestals afforded increased balance. Women’s shoes were taller and more intricately decorated than those for men.
19th Century Innovations in Shoe Manufacturing
- 1830s: Plimsolls, canvas-topped shoes with rubber soles, first manufactured by the Liverpool Rubber Company, make their debut as beachwear.
- June 15, 1844: Inventor and manufacturing engineer Charles Goodyear receives a patent for vulcanized rubber, a chemical process that uses heat to meld rubber to fabric or other components for a sturdier, more permanent bond.
- 1858: Lyman Reed Blake, an American inventor receives a patent for the specialized sewing machine he developed that stitches the soles of shoes to the uppers.
- January 24, 1871: Charles Goodyear Jr's patents the Goodyear Welt, a machine for sewing boots and shoes.
- 1883: Jan Ernst Matzeliger patents an automatic method for lasting shoes that paves the way for the mass production of affordable shoes.
- January 24, 1899: Irish-American Humphrey O'Sullivan patents the first rubber heel for shoes. Later, Elijah McCoy (best known for developing a lubricating system for railroad steam engines that did not require trains to stop) invents an improved rubber heel.
Keds, Converse, and the Evolution of Sneakers
In 1892, nine small rubber manufacturing companies consolidated to form the U.S. Rubber Company. Among them was the Goodyear Metallic Rubber Shoe Company, organized in the 1840s in Naugatuck, Connecticut, the first licensee of Charles Goodyear's vulcanization process. While Plimsolls had been on the scene for nearly six decades, vulcanization was a game-changer for rubber-soled canvas shoes.
From 1892 to 1913, the rubber footwear divisions of U.S. Rubber were manufacturing their products under 30 different brand names but the company decided to consolidate their brands under a single name. The initial favorite was Peds, from the Latin for foot, but another company already owned that trademark. By 1916, the choice had come down to two final alternatives: Vedsor Keds. The "k" sound won out and Keds were born. The same year, Keds introduced their Champion Sneaker for Women.
Keds were first mass-marketed as canvas-top "sneakers" in 1917. Henry Nelson McKinney, a copywriter who worked for the N. W. Ayer & Son Advertising Agency, coined the word "sneaker" to connote the quiet, stealthy nature of rubber-soled shoes. Other shoes, with the exception of moccasins, were noisy while sneakers were practically silent. (The Keds brand was acquired by the Stride Rite Corporation in 1979, which was in turn purchased by Wolverine World Wide in 2012).
1917 was a banner year for basketball shoes. Converse All Stars, the first shoe specifically designed for the game, were introduced. Soon after, Chuck Taylor, an iconic player of the day, became the brand ambassador. The design has remained pretty much the same over the years, and remain firmly ensconced in the cultural landscape today.
Early 20th Century Styles
As at the close of the 19th century, low-heeled shoes began to fall increasingly out of favor and as the new century dawned, higher heels made a huge resurgence. However, not everyone was willing to suffer for fashion. In 1906, Chicago-based podiatrist William MathiasScholllaunched his eponymous brand of corrective footwear, Dr. Scholl’s. By the 1910s, morality and fashion were increasingly at odds. Nice girls were expected to play by a stringent set of rules, including those instituted with regard to the heel height of women’s shoes. Anything over three inches was considered “indecent.”
Spectator shoes, the two-toned Oxfords commonly worn by British patrons of sporting events gained huge popularity among the well to do in England at the close of WWI. In America, however, spectators became part of the counterculture instead. By the ’40s, spectators often accompanied Zoot suits, the over-the-top outfits sported by African American and Hispanic men in defiance of the fashion status quo.
One of the most innovative shoe designers of the 20th century, Salvatore Ferragamo, rose to fame in the 1930s. In addition to experimenting with unusual materials including kangaroo, crocodile, and fish skin, Ferragamo drew on historic inspiration for his shoes. His cork wedge sandals—often imitated and reimagined—are considered one of the most important shoe designs of the 20th century.
Meanwhile, in Norway, a designer named Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger was looking to create a shoe that was truly comfortable and fashionable. His unisex innovation, a slip-on shoe called the Aurland moccasin was inspired by Indigenous moccasins and slip-ons favored by Norwegian fishermen. The shoes took off, both in Europe and in America. Not long after, the Spaulding family based in New Hampshire launched a similar shoe called "The Loafer," which would eventually become the generic term for this slip-on style.
In 1934, G. H. Bass debuted his Weejuns (a play on the word “Norwegian” as a nod to the homeland of the original designer). Weejuns had a distinctive strip of leather across the saddle featuring a cutout design. Kids who wore them started putting pennies or dimes into the slot, and the shoes became known as—you guessed it—"Penny Loafers."
The boat (or deck) shoe was invented by American boater Paul Sperry in 1935. After watching how his dog was able to maintain stability on ice, Sperry was inspired to cut grooves into the soles of his shoes and a brand was born.
Post World War II & the Latter Half of the 20th Century
WWII was the crucible for a number of shoe trends. Doc Martens, combining comfortable air-cushioned soles with durable uppers were invented by Dr. Klaus Maertens in 1947. In 1949, Brothel creepers, the brainchild of British shoemaker George Cox, transformed the sole of an army boot into a thick exaggerated wedge made their debut.
Loafers had long been considered a shoe of the hoi polloi in America but when the style was reinvented in 1953 by the House of Gucci, it became the shoe of choice for formal occasions for affluent fashion enthusiasts of both genders and remained so through the 1980s.
Stiletto heels (whose name was a nod to a Sicilian fighting blade) became increasingly popular in the 1950s as the curvy female hourglass figure came back into vogue. Designer Roger Vivier of the House Dior is credited as having the most influence on shoes of this style from the period.
While they’ve existed for more than 6,000 years in some form or other, the Y-shaped rubber sandals known as flip-flops became pretty much ubiquitous in the 1960s.
The Birkenstock family have been making shoes since 1774, however, it wasn’t until 1964 when Karl Birkenstock transformed the arch support inserts for his shoes into soles for sandals that the company became a household name.
During the 1970s disco craze, platform shoes became hot, hot, hot. Taking a leaf from Salvatore Ferragamo’s designs from four decades earlier, men and women hit the dance floor in outrageously high shoes.One of the most popular brands of the era was Candie’s, a clothing brand that launched in 1978.
Ugg boots debut in 1978. Uggs were originally made of sheepskin and worn by Australian surfers to warm up their feet after being in the water. In 1978, after Brian Smith imported Uggs to California under the label UGG Australia, the brand took off and has remained a fashion staple ever since but knockoffs in a variety of synthetic and cheaper materials have flooded the market.
With the 1980s came a fitness craze that changed the shape of footwear. Designers such as Reebok increasingly took branding and specialization to heart in hopes of raising both profile and profits. The most successful athletic brand to cash in on this trend is Nike’s Air Jordan, which encompasses basketball shoes and athletic and casual style clothing.
The brand was created for five-time NBA MVP Michael Jordan.Designed for Nike by Peter Moore,Tinker Hatfield, and Bruce Kilgore, the original Air Jordan sneakers were produced in 1984 and were solely for Jordan’s use, but were released to the public later that year. The brand continues to thrive in the 2000s. Vintage Air Jordans, especially those with some special personal connection to Michael Jordan, have sold for exorbitant prices (the highest recorded as of 2018 was in excess of $100,000).
- “Timeline: A History of Shoes”. Victoria & Albert Museum
- “History of the Penny Loafer”. Tricker’s England
- Acedera, Shane. “The Most Expensive Air Jordans”. SportOne. May 18, 2018
- Cartwright, Mark. “Foot Binding”. Ancient History Encyclopedia. September 27, 2017
What is the history of the shoe? ›
The shoe originated in the Catalonian region of Spain as early as the 13th century, and was commonly worn by peasants in the farming communities in the area. New styles began to develop during the Song Dynasty in China, one of them being the debut of foot straps.What was the first shoe ever made? ›
1600–1200 bce) in Mesopotamia, soft shoes were introduced by mountain people on the border of Iran who ruled Babylonia during that time. This first type of shoe was a simple wraparound of leather, with the basic construction of a moccasin, held together on the foot with rawhide lacings.Why do we wear shoes short answer? ›
Shoes not only help our feet to heal but can also aid in support and stability of our foot. Not all feet are perfect, so properly fitting shoes can help align your feet, ankles, knees, hips and back to correct your gait and improve posture.What is the most important thing about shoes? ›
Fit. It's also important to think about the fit of the shoe when you're shopping for shoes - you want to make sure that the shoe is comfortable and that it fits well. Otherwise, you'll be stuck with a pair of shoes that you can't wear, and you may be left in uncomfortable pain by the end of the day!Who invented a shoe? ›
|Jan Ernst Matzeliger|
|Jan Ernst Matzeliger in 1885|
|Born||15 September 1852 Paramaribo, Surinam|
|Died||24 August 1889 (aged 36) Lynn, Massachusetts, U.S.|
Etymology. From Middle English scho, sho, from Old English sċōh (“shoe”), from Proto-West Germanic *skōh, from Proto-Germanic *skōhaz (“shoe”), of unclear etymology; possibly a derivation from *skehaną (“to move quickly”), from Proto-Indo-European *skek- (“to move quickly, jump”).What is a shoe made of? ›
Today's shoes boast a dizzying array of materials. Leather, plastic, cloth, and rubber remain popular materials. Thanks to technology, though, you'll also find advanced materials in many shoes, including ethylene vinyl acetate, polyurethane foam, and gel or liquid silicone.Do humans need shoes? ›
Shoes do several things for us, help retain heat, allow us to travel greater distances without as much wear and tear, they can help provide ankle support if designed so. But probably the most important thing they do is ward off injury and accompanying infections.Do we really need to wear shoes? ›
Don't ditch shoes entirely.
Besides providing your feet with the proper support they need to do their thing effectively, it also protects them from environmental elements that could cause injury, such as a rogue thumbtack, a forgotten toy, an overflowing pot of hot water, or an ill-placed table leg.
Proper footwear can also provide additional protection against slips, trips and falls. Shoes with appropriate traction can help prevent falls on the same level in slippery environments. They can also prevent falls from ladders, which are all too common when people don't wear shoes with proper treads.
What is the most important part of a shoe? ›
UPPER. The upper of a shoe is, well, the upper part of a shoe. The upper wraps around your entire foot, making it one of the most important parts of a shoe.What are 5 reasons for wearing shoes? ›
- Protection against falling objects. ...
- Helps to prevent slips and falls. ...
- Helps posture and prevents muscle strain. ...
- Protection against the elements. ...
- Helps protect against electric shocks.
Shoes release toxic chemicals that negatively affect our health. They are also bad for our planet and the health of wildlife. Every year in the US, people throw away over 300 million pairs of shoes, 95% of which wind up in landfills.Who made the first shoe and why? ›
Egyptians began making shoes from woven reeds as early as 1550 BC. Worn as overshoes, they were boat-shaped and had straps constructed of long, thin reeds covered by wider strips of the same material. Shoes in this style were still being made as late as the 19th century.What were shoes first made of? ›
The earliest forms of footwear were fabricated from bark, twine, and other nature-made materials. Leather shoes originated over 5000 years ago and were made from a single piece of cowhide, then fastened with a leather cord.Why was the shoe invented? ›
From the earliest times, shoes were made with an important function in mind: to protect the bottoms of the feet. But as society evolved, shoes found their place as costume and ceremony.Which is the best shoe in the world? ›
- Nike. Nike is an American multinational corporation that designs, develops, manufactures, and markets footwear, clothes, equipment, and accessories in the whole world. ...
- Reebok. ...
- Adidas. ...
- Puma. ...
- Bata. ...
- New Balance. ...
- Sketchers. ...
It has been estimated that the average shoe size for an adult across the world is somewhere between a US size 7 and a US size 8.Why are shoes popular? ›
On sneakers are popular because of their simplistic but revolutionary idea – shoes that offer a cushioned landing but firm take-off for optimal support. The brand has also gained a following because of its sustainability as a forward-thinking activewear brand.Who invented and 1 shoes? ›
1993–2000. In 1993, AND1 began as a graduate school project partnership of Jay Coen Gilbert, Seth Berger, and Tom Austin while they were graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
What is another name for shoes? ›
At its most basic, a shoe consists of heal, toe cap, insole, and outsole that covers the foot. But other secondary parts make up the rest of the shoe anatomy too. They include upper, eyelets, quarter, vamp, lining, tongue, topline and top edge, and these give the shoe more detail and structure.What is shoe called in English? ›
noun, plural shoes, (especially British Dialect) shoon [shoon]. an external covering for the human foot, usually of leather and consisting of a more or less stiff or heavy sole and a lighter upper part ending a short distance above, at, or below the ankle. an object or part resembling a shoe in form, position, or use.When did humans first wear shoes? ›
Humans have actually been wearing shoes of some sort for at least 40,000 years. Analysis of skeletons from Tiankyuan Cave in China showed changes in toe bones potentially associated with decreases in strain on the forefoot from not walking barefoot.Where are most shoes made? ›
China was the world's leading producer of footwear in 2021, with a total of approximately 12 billion pairs of shoes produced. China, India, Vietnam, and Indonesia are leaders in footwear production, which highlights the domination of the Asia Pacific (APAC) region in this industry.Are shoes good for your health? ›
The shoes you wear can impact your overall health. Not only do bad shoes affect the health of your feet, they can also contribute to the health of your legs, knees, hips, back, and neck. Therefore, for the sake of your overall health, always choose footwear that is supportive and comfortable.How did humans walk before shoes? ›
They regularly walked barefoot, which meant their skin and immune system were developed and strengthened more than us modern shoe-wearing humans, and were not in as much danger as we would be in, walking barefoot.Do shoes matter? ›
Shoes matter for your feet because they, in turn, support them during common activities. The insides of them also have padding, special insoles and other features so your feet will be comfortable.What shoes symbolize? ›
Shoes have, for centuries, given hints about a person's character, social and cultural place, even sexual preference. Shoes are powerful “things”, as they take control over the physical and human space in which we live. They allow us to move in and experience the environment.What happens to shoes if not used? ›
Over time the fine leathers will begin to dry out, the rubber becomes brittle, the entire shoe forgets its purpose. If you decide not to wear a pair of shoes they never get to do what a shoe is meant to do!
What happens if you don't use shoes? ›
Apart from causing an achy body, walking barefoot also exposes our feet to bacterial and fungal organisms that can infect the skin and nails. These organisms can lead to infections that change the appearance, odor, and comfort of the foot, such as athlete's foot or fungus.What makes a shoe durable? ›
As for materials, leather is the ultimate material for shoes because it is long lasting and will flex to fit the shape of your foot. And according to Davey, the soles really are the 'soul' of the shoe when it comes to durability; they should be constructed in a way that can be repaired when it wears down.What keeps shoes in shape? ›
A shoe tree is a device approximating the shape of a foot that is placed inside a shoe to preserve its shape, stop it from developing creases, and thereby extend the life of the shoe.How long do shoes last without wearing them? ›
You can expect your stored, unused shoes to last for 2-3 years without issues if stored carefully. New shoes in their box… the best smell!What is the side of a shoe called? ›
The upper of the shoe consists of the vamp (or front of the shoe), the quarters (i.e. the sides and back of the shoe), and the linings.Who wears the shoes meaning? ›
Quick answer: it means the assets weren't restricted or hindered like the others were. First, the literal aspect: Wearing shoes in the formal business world is something you're expected to do. It's how you're following the dress code and you're staying inline with everyone else.Why is shoes design important? ›
The footwear design also tells us about how we combine colors and different styles. These are aspects directly related to the design of the footwear that ID Sneakers and its experience has managed to combine, to obtain the satisfaction of its buyers.How do shoes make you feel? ›
The shoes that you wear can make you feel confident or inadequate; they can enable you to do a certain function such as running or be completely inadequate for the task in hand. Shoes can provide you with the support and comfort you need or potentially leave you in pain and, at the very worst, injured.Who invented the shoe and when? ›
|Jan Ernst Matzeliger|
|Jan Ernst Matzeliger in 1885|
|Born||15 September 1852 Paramaribo, Surinam|
|Died||24 August 1889 (aged 36) Lynn, Massachusetts, U.S.|
The earliest sports shoes were created by The Liverpool Rubber Company, founded by John Boyd Dunlop, in the 1830s. Dunlop was an innovator who discovered how to bond canvas uppers to rubber soles. These were known as sandshoes and worn by Victorians on their beach excursions.
Which country made original shoes? ›
China was the world's leading producer of footwear in 2021, with a total of approximately 12 billion pairs of shoes produced. China, India, Vietnam, and Indonesia are leaders in footwear production, which highlights the domination of the Asia Pacific (APAC) region in this industry.Who had the first signature shoe? ›
The First Signature Shoe
This happened in 1973 when the company Puma offered Clyde his very own signature shoe, The Puma Clyde. At the time, Clyde was playing for the New York Knicks. The Puma Clyde became the most popular basketball shoe of the 70s because it had a better design than the Chuck.