Friday, January 9, 2009

Broad toed shoes

By the end of the Middle Ages clothes had become important symbols of social status. A mass of symbols served to indicate emotional states, such as joy and grief in the finer shades. Shoes supplied a kind of social ritual the knowledge of which indicated breeding. There were symbols marking particular occasions as well as standard of conduct. Paris was already the home of fashion and of polite Western manners. During the thirteenth century in France the concept of the ideal beauty was developed and took precise shape in the visual arts and literature. This was also seen in Italy where greater attention was paid to the perfection of the female body. In all the Italian states men and women translated this search after formal beauty into costume. This may explain why the broad shoe called Duck's bill, Scarpine or Bear's Paw came into being. Broad enough to accommodate each toe, Duck bill shoes were as much as 12 inches broad. Men who wore Duck's bill adopted a waddling gait. The uppers were made from silks, brocades and velvets. The shoes were heavily padded, puffed, and embroidered. The upper of the shoe had fine cuts (or slashing) in the leather to show the coloured hose or sumptuous lining beneath. Often the shoes were lined with soft fur to resemble pubic hair and as the foot moved, skin could be observed through the open and closing slits, vaginal like. This was considered to resemble the female genitalia. By 1492 the toes of men’s shoes became rounded. High fronted shoe with bulbous toes were worn towards the end of the 15th century. Coloured hose for men were in vogue and the shoe the ideal means of displaying them. Stockings or tights were worn in two layers: a dark inner one and a plain outer layer which was cut into narrow vertical strips for most of its length. In 1540 women wore woollen or linen hose with square-toed shoes that were cut low at the front and sides and fastened with straps. Men’s shoes were closed to the ankle and had rounded toes with uppers that were slashed diagonally. These were often studded with tiny jewels and worn with a slight heel. Slashing was a fashion statement, which may have had its origins in war torn, look-alike. The style was popular for about a century till it was eventually condemned and outlawed throughout Europe. In the reign of Queen Mary, (Bloody Mary - 1516-58) sumptuary laws were passed to limited the breadth of shoes. These shoes were also known as solerets. Slimmer shapes replaced the broad duck's bill shoes, first the low cut escaffignins, wide and puffed at the toes, then the heelless eschapins, which covered the foot and were slashed on top. The growth of towns and enrichment of the mercantile classes led to the emergence, everywhere of a rich bourgeoisie, which aspired to the privileges of the nobility. Costume became a means for one class to demonstrate its rise, and for another to emphasise its jealously guarded permanence. Women wore soft ankle strap slippers with puffed and slashed round toes. In the 16th century the T strap was introduced. Round toed sandals, raised by two heels one under the ball of the foot the other under the heel. High fronted shoes with decorative slashed uppers remained popular till 1588. By then men were wearing white shoes with long pointed toes and pinked uppers. Women also wore these shoes although some wore chopines closed at the ankles. Countryman’s clothing was more functional and they wore spurred boots turned down at the knee. Women continued to wear shoes without fastenings, which fitted closely around the ankles. Mules worn on stocking clad feet were often studded with pearls. During the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603) a platform sole about I inch thick became popular. The ladies of the court wore mules high heeled slippers with closed toe straps fur trimmed and made of brocade. The pump was designed with an over sized tab that covered the instep and rose to the ankle. Pattens were often worn to protect delicate shoes from the elements. Rabbit ear bows were worn with high heeled shoes. (Bigelow, 1970).

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