The History Of Shoes Is A Strange History Indeed
In looking at the history of shoes, you might expect a more or less steady evolution from a simple foot wrapping in primitive times, to the styles we see today. Instead there are some interesting twists and turns along the way, long periods when nothing seemed to change much, and other periods when shoe design took some very strange directions indeed.
One thing that becomes apparent when studying the history of shoes, is that, with the exception of trying to do something to protect the soles of the feet from rocks and thorns, not too much attention was given to actual comfort. The Pharaohs wore fancy sandals while the common man had to go barefoot. The design of the sandals probably made wearing them much more uncomfortable than going barefoot. The common man had the last laugh there, though he might not have realized it. Things didn't get a whole lot better until late in the 19th century, when someone apparently took a closer look at the human foot and decided something needed to be done to improve the shoe design and production. But we'll get into that a bit later.
The beginning of the history of shoes is, as they say, lost in the mists of time. Cave drawings and discovering of long dead individuals preserved in peat bogs or trapped in ice; indicate the use of foot wrappings of one kind or another many thousands of years ago. Primitive man may not have been advanced technologically but he wasn't stupid either and someone realized in early times that there was a better way to go about than with bare feet. So, we can't really say who invented shoes. They just sort of evolved through the centuries. What is amazing is how long it took the "sophisticated" modern man to get things right.
In The Beginning, Sandals And Clogs - The invention of the sandal is often attributed to the Egyptians, and the clogs to the Japanese and Chinese, but many ancient cultures likely wore some variation of one or the other. The ancient Egyptian sandal however might be the oldest shoe design still used today. The Egyptians started with sandals constructed from papyrus, but eventually discovered that better and more durable sandals could be constructed of leather. As mentioned above, the wearing of sandals was for the most part constrained to the ruling classes. One thing about the sandal that the Egyptians didn't get quite right was that the thong was placed in the center of the front part of the sole. This was fine if your big toe were located in the same place, which of course it isn't. But out of stubbornness the Egyptians continued to make sandals the same way for some centuries. This practice of not getting things quite right as far as hoes were concerned would continue through the centuries in other countries and other cultures.
The Native Americans Got It Right - At about the same time, no one knows for certain exactly when, the history of shoes time line is rather fuzzy here, people in the northern climates developed the moccasin, which in the really cold places included a leather piece around the ankle, tied by a string. Credit the Eskimos, Lapps and Native Americans with that. It would be awhile before the rest of the world came up with anything to match the design of the moccasin, still one of the most comfortable of shoes you can wear.
Shoes? No Service - Meanwhile further south, the ancient Greeks took up the idea of wearing sandals and began to design some beautiful variations. The talent the Greeks had in the arts and architectural design also became evident in their production of sandals. Sandals were not worn indoors, not considered to be in good taste. In ancient Greece you might not be served in a cafe if you were caught with your sandals on. Times have changed! Where the Greeks focused on attractive design in their sandals, the Romans designed sandals for more practical uses, like marching from conquest to conquest. The Romans did make a couple of small advances. The common man in Greece still went barefoot for the most part, where in Rome the common man wore very plain sandals, while the powerful and wealthy wore very expensive and colorful sandals. Everyone still took their sandals off when going indoors however, but one enterprising Roman came up with the idea of house slippers, more appropriately banquet slippers, which were meant for indoor use. Now you could attend a fancy banquet and everyone would not be in bare feet.
Sandals continued to be worn into the Middle Ages with a refinement here and a refinement there, and over a period of time began to look more like what we call shoes today. A major advance occurred with the invention of the turned shoe, which simply was a shoe sewn inside out and then turned outside in. With the entrance of the turned shoe, all that remained was the invention of a proper sole and heel, but that took awhile.