Footwear Through the Ages

Shoes have been around for about 40,000 years if you can believe it. Although they didn’t start out the way we know them today. Shoes have changed and evolved so many different times to fit many different needs and lifestyles. Let’s go over the evolution of footwear and how we got to where we are today.

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Invention of Shoes

The invention of shoes has been estimated to be during the Middle Paleolithic Period. Shoes were exclusively for protective purposes and were made from soft leather. The leather was wrapped around the person’s foot then sewn together on top.

The earliest shoes had ties that resembled laces, made out of thick grass. This kept the shoes held together. These shoes somewhat resembled mocassins.

Moving Toward Better Fitting Shoes

Get this:

The Roman sandals are said to be the first shoe that was specifically designed to fit the foot. That’s a lot earlier than a lot of people think! From the time of the Romans around 450 AD, shoes started to become better fitted, instead of leather just strapped to the foot.

Roman sandals were unisex and had cork soles and leather laces.

Shoes Become More Practical

Around the year 1450, round-toed shoes started to become more popular. Interestingly enough, square-toed shoes were popular up until that time. 

Round toed shoes were the most practical decision because they were shaped to fit the natural curve of your toes, instead of having sharp edges.

Are you ready for this?

Shoes in this era even had straps with buckles! You’d often see buckled shoes on toddlers.

Footwear is Everywhere

At this point, shoes were something that everyone wore. However, shoes were typically only worn outside. This started to change around the 1700s. 

Men’s mules were shoes that were designed to be worn indoors so that men could continue looking stylish and keeping their feet clean and protected.

This was a sign of affluence if you could afford shoes just for the indoors.

Not Just for Functionality

In the late 1700s, shoes started moving away from strictly functional to fashionable. Shoes were started to become something that you could accessorize with instead of using them just to protect your feet. 

Ready for something surprising?

Small heels were invented and started to become popular not just for women, but for men also. It became traditional for men to have at least a one-inch heel. This is also the time that higher quality fabrics started to be used more often. Silk was being used for the insides of nicer shoes.

Are You Feeling What I’m Feeling?

That’s right, comfort!

Here’s something interesting:

In 1830 French shoe-makers started labeling shoes “left” and “right” strictly for marketing purposes. In fact, up until this point shoes were straight and it didn’t matter which foot you put your shoes on.

It wasn’t until 1850 that shoemakers actually started making the left and right shoes slightly different. This gave extra comfort in shoes because they fit with the natural shape of each foot.

Sports, Sports, Sports!

In 1917, Converse All-Stars were invented. These shoes were designed and created for basketball. Up until now, there were not many shoes created for playing sports in. 

Did you know:

Chuck Taylor became the spokesperson for these new shoes and that’s where the nickname “Chucks” came from?

These shoes are still popular today.

Specialized Shoes Make an Appearance

Paul Sperry invented the boat shoe in 1935 because he was concerned about slipping on the deck of his boat. 

He cut grooves in the bottom of his shoes so that there would be better traction on slippery surfaces. This created a new idea that shoes could be specialized for specific purposes.

Fun fact:

Since boating is an expensive hobby, boat shoes became known as the leisure footwear for the exceptionally wealthy.

Heels Get Higher and Higher

Up until 1955 heels were usually around 1 inch. Any higher than 1 inch was seen as indecent. The Stiletto heel was born and named after a Sicilian fighting knife. The heel was much taller and was tapered. 

This is cool:

The Stiletto was invented to pushback against the social constructs for women during World War II. Women didn’t want to be told what to wear or whether or not it was considered indecent. Thus the Stiletto was born.

The Best of Both Worlds

Comfort and practicality are both things that people want in a shoe. In 1964, the Birkenstock family finally merged comfort and practicality into one shoe. 

This shoe-making family put a comfortable shoe into a sandal, which had never been done before. This made the shoe so comfortable that people all around Europe and America started to wear them.

People loved the design and fit of the Birkenstock sandals. They also loved the fact that they could wear these shoes anywhere.

The Aerobics Boom Creates Exercise Shoes

There was a big bang of aerobics and exercise in the 1980s. Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of shoes that were designed for aerobic exercise. 

Reebok became wildly popular as they started to create shoes that were comfortable enough to exercise in.

From then on…

Shoes became more and more specialized for certain aerobic exercises. All because of the big bang of aerobics in the 80’s.

Shoes Today

Shoes can be designed for any lifestyle, any fashion sense, or any purpose. Shoes are constantly being reinvented and reimagined to fit the needs of many different people. 

It’s crazy to think about where shoes started to where they are now.

It makes one wonder:

Where will shoes go in the future?

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