Friday, May 30, 2014

Jan Matzeliger : Inventor of the Lasting Machine

In the late 19th century, Lynn, Massachusetts was the shoe capital of the world. Historians have a shoe ledger which dates back to 1623 indicating shoes were made in this region of the US. Lynn during the colonial years was littered with 10 foot by 10 foot shacks where artisan shoemakers practiced their craft. Production in these early days was low by today’s mass production but these shoes were hand crafted. As the Industrial Revolution took hold shoemaking moved from small shops to factory floors and the introduction of new technology increased from five shoes per day to 50 pairs. Cutting and shaping the leather, piecing eyeholes, as well as producing the heel and soles were producing the soles were all mechanised. The only aspect of shoe making which required intensive manpower was lasting. Artisans still had to hand stretch the leather upper over a last and nail the leather to the insole. This created a bottleneck on the assembly line but was considered too intricate a task for any machine. Then Jay Matzeliger invented a lasting machine which would revolutionise the shoe making industry. Matzeliger was born in Africa to a Dutch engineer father and a Surinamese slave mother. When he arrived in Lynn in the 1870s, he was a consummate shoemaker but spoke little English. He spent endless hours watching lasters work before the talented amateur engineer came up with a prototype lasting machine. After five painstaking years, his obsession paid off and in 1883, Matzeliger finally obtained a patent for his lasting machine. His invention was finally unveiled and demonstrated on May 29, 1885. Factory production jumped 1500 % per day and the cost of a pair of shoes made in Lynn dropped in half. Within a few years, Lynn is the undisputed shoe capital of the world. 234 factories churning out more than a million pairs of shoes each day. Sadly Matzeliger would never fully enjoy the spoils of his success and died of tuberculosis aged 36. Shoe production in Lynn waned through the 20th century and the Great Depression devastated the shoe making industry hard. The last remaining shoe factory in the city burned to the ground in 1981. Today, nearly 99 percent of shoes sold in the US are made overseas.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Heel: Where did the fascination with elevated footwear come from?

Why do tens of millions of women all over the world choose to walk around on stilt like objects called heels? Where did the fascination with elevated footwear come from and what do they tell us about class, power and sex? It may surprise many to hear that high heels were first worn by… men.

The Heel BBC World service The Why Factor broadcast on the 11th January 3013.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Egyptian shoes present a real mystery to experts

A cash of shoes hidden in an ancient Egyptian temple was found in 2004 by an Italian archaeological expedition team. More recent research confirms the design features of some of these shoes were well in advance of shoe technology of the time and André Veldmeijer , assistant director of the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo and expert in ancient Egyptian footwear is keen to find out more about the find. Seven shoes were deposited in a jar, three pairs and a single one. Two pairs were originally worn by children and were only about 7 inches (18 centimeters) long. Using palm fibre string, the child shoes were tied together within a larger adult single shoe and put in the jar. Another pair of shoes, more than 9 inches (24 cm) long was also inserted in the jar. The jar was found hidden in a cavity between two mud brick walls in a temple in Luxor, site of the ancient city of Thebes . The footwear is thought to be over 2,000 years ago when Egypt was ruled by a dynasty of Greek descent. At the time the shoes were concealed, most Egyptians would normally have worn sandals. He extraordinary feature f the adult footwear is they were made with a rand. These are folded leather strips that go between the soles and the upper to prevent damage around the stitch holes that join them. The rand helps reinforce the stitiching but was not thought to not have been invented until the Middle Ages. The shoe was also tied with 'tailed toggles', i.e. leather strips that pass through at the top of the shoes and hung down decoratively on either side. Veldmeijer's analysis suggests the shoes may have been made outside Egypt and were almost certainly expensive. Uneven wearmarks and evidence of repair suggested one pair had been worn by someone with a limp and the second adult pair of shoes was worn by a person with bunions. No one yet knows why the shoes were hidden but it is postulated the expensive footwear was being kept in a safe place when the owners were forced to leave hurriedly.

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.

Monday, December 26, 2011

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.