A Down-to-Earth Look at Footwear Fashions
HAVE you taken a look at the display window of a shoe store lately? Whether you like what you see or not, one thing is certain: Variety in shoe fashions, especially for women, seems endless.
Each year, some 200,000 new footwear designs are created in the United States alone, and the same number, if not more, are produced by European designers. But before ever reaching the market, about half of them are rejected, and of the remaining half, only about 25,000 become profitable. Still, that is a mind-boggling number. No wonder shopping for shoes is such an exhilarating experience for some but such an exhausting one for others.
Variations on Some Basic Themes
Whatever your feeling may be about the endless parade of footwear fashions, would you believe that all the thousands of shoe designs are really variations on just a few basic shoe types?
The accompanying illustrations will give you a good idea of what the seven basic shoe types are: oxford, boot, pump, clog, mule, sandal, and moccasin. Even though we are deluged with thousands of new designs each year—and fashion-conscious individuals pride themselves on keeping up with the latest—the truth of the matter is that not one new basic shoe type has been introduced in the last 350 years, since the oxford. The oldest basic types, such as the sandal and the moccasin, literally go back thousands of years.
Today, women’s shoes far exceed men’s in variety and quantity. Yet, all seven basic types were originally designed by and for men. Of course, appearance, workmanship, and material have changed considerably through the ages, but it is from these few basic styles that the thousands of variations in fashion themes have developed to suit every taste and life-style. But how did these seven basic styles come about?
Knowing the Basic Types
Oxford is the most recent among the seven types. The name, appropriately, originates in Oxford, England. It was there that this laced shoe first became popular with university students in the mid-1600’s. The boot, which preceded the oxford, started as a two-piece unit with shoe below and legging above. One theory was that because it looked somewhat like a bucket, the French called it butt, meaning “water bucket.” The word gradually became boute, and when the English adopted the style from the Normans in the 11th century, they called it boot.
The pump today is a stylish, plain-toe, low-cut shoe with thin sole and low heel. It came into use apparently in Elizabethan times. Some suggest that the pump was originally worn by carriage footmen, who had to pump the pedals on the carriage with their feet. It gradually developed into a shoe for women and became a popular fashion, worn on formal, stately, and full-dress occasions. Because of this, some authorities believe that the name came from the French word pompe, meaning “pomp, state, solemnity, magnificence, ostentation.”
Dating farther back, the clog takes its name from an old English word meaning a “block of wood.” This is because early clogs were carved from wood. They were worn by peasants and the working class because they were cheap to produce. Today, many people enjoy wearing clogs having leather uppers attached to a base of wood or other materials. Backless like the clog is the mule, except that it is much more refined and is usually worn indoors. Its design has been attributed to the mulu of the Sumerians, which was a type of slip-on scuff, or flat-soled slipper. The modern version is outfitted with heels and has become a fashionable shoe.
The oldest among the seven types are the sandal and the moccasin. Of the two, the sandal enjoyed a much wider use and was the common footwear in Bible times. It was simply a piece of wood or leather tied to the foot with straps. The moccasin, on the other hand, became well-known because of the North American Indians, who gave it the name, which simply means “foot covering.”
The next time you see a pair of shoes, can you identify which one of the seven types it is? At first glance it may not seem so easy. This is because the basic types have been so freely adapted through the years to suit changing tastes and fashions. But a closer study will enable you to identify it properly. For example, jogging shoes may not look like any of the seven basic types, but they are nothing but oxfords made of different materials. A lady’s open-back shoe is really a mule with straps added, and a Loafer is basically a moccasin with a stronger sole.
How Footwear Fashions Were Launched
For hundreds of years, footwear fashions were strictly the domain of the rich and the aristocratic. To the common folk, shoes were just shoes—covering and protection for the feet—and function was the main concern; little attention was given to how they looked. The whole idea, and business, of fashionable shoes as we know it today is of very recent origin.
One factor that prevented the business of shoes from blossoming was that for centuries shoes were handcrafted. It took time to make them, and they were expensive. Most people could not afford to get a new pair of shoes whenever they had the urge. What changed all of that was the introduction of shoemaking machinery in the United States in the mid-1800’s. Overnight, a craft became an industry. Shoes became not only widely available but also easily affordable. However, it took two other events to send footwear fashions on their way: passage of the Volstead Act of 1919 (also known as Prohibition) and ratification in 1920 of the Constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right of women to vote.
These events precipitated profound changes in American society. Prohibition brought about new forms of entertainment, dancing, and music. Women, with their newly gained freedom, indulged in these so-called self-liberating activities and pursued everything that was new and different. Along with cosmetics, shorter skirts, and new hairdos came a fascination with shoe fashions. The defiant “Flapper Age” got its name from young women who deliberately left their shoes unbuckled. When they walked, their shoes would “flap” loudly, thus calling attention to the women and to their cause.
All of this created an enormous demand for elegant and affordable shoes. This, coupled with the new techniques and materials used in shoe manufacturing, catapulted footwear fashions to what they are today. Now, for the first time in history, fashionable footwear is no longer the prerogative of the rich and powerful but is within the reach of most everyone.
Surprisingly, in spite of all the clamor about fashion and design in footwear in past centuries, the seven basic types have remained essentially unchanged. Still, the endless variety and the thousands of designs and looks in shoes available today testify to the ingenuity of those in the business. This wide variety also shows that tastes and fashions are such volatile things that it is easy to fall victim to the whims of those who set the pace in such things.
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Old Shoe Stories
◻ To relieve headaches, ancient Egyptians would burn a sandal and breathe the smoke.
◻ To cure a stomach pain, some early American settlers would lie down and place a pair of heavy boots on the belly.
◻ At one time, an Arab man could divorce his wife by simply tossing her shoes out the door, much as if he were discarding a worn-out pair of slippers.
◻ The best-known shoe story is no doubt the Cinderella tale. There are hundreds of versions of this story told by peoples around the world, the oldest one in print being Chinese. It was recorded in the ninth century, some 800 years before the popular Western version.
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