Starting At the Bottom
By Patrick F. Cannon
Unlike President Trump, most of us had to start at the bottom and work our way up. Therefore, I must most sincerely apologize for last week’s history of hats. I certainly should have begun my history of apparel at the bottom with the lowly shoe, and only then worked my way upwards. Since you have had to forgive me for much of what I write in this space, I hope you will indulge me once again.
There is no convincing evidence to suggest that the cave dwellers wore shoes (or didn’t for that matter). As you know, they covered the walls of their caves with quite convincing drawings of cows and other ruminants. No self portraits, alas. It makes one wonder how later artists knew what they looked like, but that’s a mystery for another day. Anyway, as they were hunters and gatherers, their feet no doubt developed sufficient calluses to obviate the need for additional protection. Which makes me to wonder how they cut their nails, since all they had were those flinty things? Hmmm.
The first actual evidence of shoes in northern climes came with the discovery of a well preserved pre-historic body in the Alps. I have written of this before, but when an ancient glacier melted, it uncovered the body of a poor fellow who had been waylaid by a band of ruffians, bopped on the head unto death, and left to become one with the glacier. When discovered recently by Swiss mountaineers, he was wearing what were obviously primitive shoes, as well as a jaunty hat. The shoes consisted of a piece of leather gathered about the poor fellows ankles and held in place by what we might now call a shoelace; simple, surely, but presumably adequate enough for trekking up and down the Alps.
In last week’s article, I outed the Assyrians, Egyptians and Babylonians as early hat wearers. Ancient carvings also reveal that they invented the sandal. I’m sure most of us have had the experience of stepping barefooted on a sun-roasted sand beach. Just imagine living on such a surface! Early carvings show stick figures hopping about wildly. Researchers originally thought they were performing a ritual dance, but later concluded they were trying to traverse the hot desert sands. Later carvings showed similar figures strolling jaunty jolly on those same sands, but now with what we now know as sandals upon their feet. Hieroglyphs give credit for this foot saving innovation to Ibn El Beer Kun Schtok.
Shoes gained a separate sole upon the rise of Christianity. As time passed, they became ever more sophisticated. By the time of King Henry VIII, they were made of the finest leathers, often adorned with rare jewels. Alas, poor Henry was too fat to see his feet, but they were the envy of his courtiers. About this time, the sock was invented. To be blunt, even Kings rarely washed and shoes began to exude rare odors. Putting a bit of fabric between the foot and the shoe helped somewhat; it also obscured the related fact that feet and ankles were not only gamey but grimy.
Just when women became obsessed with shoes is unclear. Shoes that survive from the reign of the self same Henry show the high heel for the first time. In addition to adding a bit of height to aristocratic ladies, it made their legs a bit more fetching. Not in public, of course, but perhaps in the privacy of the bed chamber? It is reported in court chronicles that Ann Boleyn owned no fewer than 300 pairs of shoes, the highest number recorded until eclipsed in our own time by the legendary Imelda Marcos.
Due to the efforts of our forbearers, we now have a bewildering variety of foot wear to choose from. I myself still own two pairs of fine business shoes, now dusted off only when a rare formal occasion demands. For daily wear, I favor a pair of sturdy walking shoes; when they wear out, I spring for a new pair. A couple of years ago, giving in to pressure from loved ones, I bought a pair of blue suede loafers for summer wear. I wear them only when I visit my son and brother in Florida every year, and for the odd garden soiree. I do not own a single pair of sneakers, which should only be worn by tennis players and children.
In closing, I should mention that modish young men seem to have abandoned the sock when wearing sneakers, loafers and boat shoes. On the other hand, I have noticed that some elderly men wear black socks with their sandals. What next, I wonder?
Copyright 2017, Patrick F. Cannon