Thursday, January 8, 2009

Brief history of poulaines or long toed shoes

During the early Middle Ages Royalty wore slippers of purple silk trimmed with pearls or embroidery. Both men and women wore shorter boots whereas the longer boot was exclusively men’s' fashion. In the 11 and 12th centuries workers wore the open toed crepita and laced calcaneus. (Bigelow 1970). Both stockings and socks were worn but the Normans preferred the former and the Saxons the latter. William II (William Rufus) enjoyed wearing sumptuous stockings refusing to wear anything under a mark in price. By the High Middle Ages fashion had costume for men and the fashion for long toed shoes called pigaches or poulaines caught on. The fashion lasted over three hundred years before it was eventually legislated against. At first extensions soon became longer and longer until they were so long they made walking almost impossible. Young bucks started to stuff wool and moss in the extensions to keep them erect. Blatantly phallic the long shoe now 24 inches longer than the foot had chain attachments to the knee to prevent tripping. A popular vulgarity was to paint the extensions flesh coloured, allowing them to flap with lifelike mobility. Small hawke bells were sewn to the end of the poulaine to indicate the wearer was a willing partner in sexual frolic. "Footsie, footsie" took on a more meaningful importance during this time and many boring banquets were enhanced with below table shenanigans. Sometimes worn by curling the toes, the poulaine was the forerunner to the codpiece. The origins of the shoes remain clouded but in some places they were referred to as Crackowe shoes. Certainly the fashion was wide spread throughout Europe and their popularity unopposed. Exaggeration is a constant theme of fashion and is used to give maximum impact to a new look and to prolong the life of a dying one. This may account for the eccentricities, which glorified masculine sexuality in a most obvious way. Youths were chastised for standing on the street corners waggling their toes suggestively as the young ladies walked by. The appearance of the poulaine was perhaps less by chance and more to do with and undercurrent belief in the worship of Phallus. This predated Christianity and may have represented a conscious resurfacing of occult practice in the Middle Ages. The Church was aware of the audacity of poulaines and shocked at the overt and ribald obscenity of the habit of wearing them. Sumptuary legislation to stop men from wearing them was introduced because the shoes physically prevented men from praying. The Papal edict met with dumb silence. In defence of the shoes, it may have been the way men wore their hose tightly laced to their doublets that prevented them from kneeling. In any event the shoes were branded as Satan's Curse (or Satan's Claw) and university professors were banned from wearing them in the thirteenth century. Many of the clergy were at a loss to explain the Black Plague (1347) and so blamed the poulaine as God's revenge for wearing them. Yet still the style prevailed until the length of shoes was later legislated for but not because of faith or breach of faith, instead because it was as a function of social status. Between 1327 and 1377, during the reign of Edward III (1312-1377), pointed toes were prohibited to all who did not have an income of at least forty pounds a year. And while a prince might wear shoes as long as he liked, pikes could not be more than six inches long for a plain commoner, twelve inches for a landowner (bourgeois), Knights, one and a half feet; and twenty four inches for a baron, and princes could wear them as long as they liked. From about 1340 onwards men started to wear shorter garments called gippons or pourpoints. Long garments survived at court and ecclesiastical and academic circles. Short garments exposed the leg and required hose that was better supported and tighter. These were generally made to measure and available in different styles. There were fur lined hose, hose for horse riding, soled hose which replaced shoes. Despite the alternatives, poulaines remained popular throughout Europe until in 1367, when Pope Urban V eventually banned commoners from wearing the winklepicker shoe. He threatened excommunication and in some cases death to the lower echelons of society but was less adamant with the upper and ruling classes. Turning a blind eye to their open promiscuity, and granting those of royal birth immunity to wear the poulaine. As the fashion re-emerged in France, Charles V (the Wise) (1338-80), forbid the wearing of "trop ultragueses poulaines". Little notice was taken and in 1386 at the battle of Sempach, Austrian Knights who wished to dismount to fight needed the help of their armourer to snap off the long toes. According to Ribeiro & Cumming (1989), Richard II (1377-1399) bought whalebones for the points of his shoes in 1393-4. The fashion reached its peak towards 1460-70 when Edward IV (1442-1483) enacted a public law prohibiting shoe maker from making shoes with more than two inch extensions for under privileged persons. The end of the poulaine was foretold by two episodes. The first involved the death of Duke Leopold II of Austria, who died because his long pointed shoes impeded him from escaping his assassins. The second was because Charles VIII had polydactylism or six toes on each foot. The regent required broad square-toed shoes which changed the fashion. The winkle picker did eventually return in fashion but not before the introduction of the heel. In the fifteenth century women started to wear poulaines but the fashion was short lived. Many women were persecuted as witches because they wore unusual attire, cross-dressing in the manner of wearing men's shoes or poulaines was enough to convince the fearful of guilt.

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