A shoe is an item of footwear intended to protect and comfort the human foot. Shoes are also used as an item of decoration and fashion.
The design of shoes has varied enormously through time and from culture to culture, with form originally being tied to function.
Climatic evidence suggests that people were probably protecting their feet from frigid conditions by about 50,000 years ago. Changes in foot shape and toe strength indicate that people were using footwear with substantial soles by about 40,000 years ago.
The earliest known shoes are sagebrush bark sandals dating from approximately 7000 or 8000 BC, found in the Fort Rock Cave in the US state of Oregon in 1938.
The world’s oldest leather shoe [Photo above], made from a single piece of cowhide laced with a leather cord along seams at the front and back, was found in the Areni-1 cave complex in Armenia in 2008 and is believed to date to 3500 BC.
Ötzi the Iceman’s shoes, dating to 3300 BC, featured brown bearskin bases, deerskin side panels, and a bark-string net, which pulled tight around the foot.
The Jotunheimen shoe was discovered in August 2006: archaeologists estimate that this leather shoe was made between 1800 and 1100 BC, making it the oldest article of clothing discovered in Scandinavia.
During the Kassite period (c. 1600–1200 BC) in Mesopotamia, soft shoes were introduced by mountain people on the border of Iran who ruled Babylonia during that time. This first type of shoe was a simple wraparound of leather, with the basic construction of a moccasin, held together on the foot with rawhide lacings.
Greek women often went barefoot or wore sandals, but indoors they sometimes wore soft closed shoes, which became luxurious in the Hellenistic period, with white or red the preferred colours. Until the 5th century BC, when Greek influence became dominant, the Etruscans wore a high, laced shoe with a turned-up toe.
The Romans, who established shoe guilds, developed shaped shoes fitted for the left or right foot. Their footwear was differentiated according to sex and rank.
Thong sandals (the precursors of the modern flip-flop) were worn by many civilizations and made from a wide variety of materials. Ancient Egyptian sandals were made from papyrus and palm leaves.
Many early natives in North America wore type of footwear known as the moccasin. These are tight-fitting, soft-soled shoes typically made out of leather or bison hides. Many moccasins were also decorated with various beads and other adornments. Moccasins were not designed to be waterproof, and in wet weather and warm summer months, most Native Americans went barefoot.
A common casual shoe in the Pyrenees during the Middle Ages was the espadrille. This is a sandal with braided jute soles and a fabric upper portion, and often includes fabric laces that tie around the ankle. The term is French and comes from the esparto grass. The shoe originated in the Catalonian region of Spain as early as the 13th century, and was commonly worn by peasants in the farming communities in the area.
In the early 1800’s, women’s and men’s shoes finally began to differ from one another in style, color, heel, and toe shape. Cloth-topped shoes made an appearance during this era, and boots grew exceedingly popular. After much fluctuation, the standard for a man’s heel finally settled at 1 inch.
Up until 1850, shoes were made straight, meaning that there was no differentiation from left and right shoes. As the twentieth century approached, shoemakers improved comfort by making foot-specific shoes.
The 19th century was characterised by the predominance of boots both for men and women. Popular styles were the Blucher boot, cloth boots, the elastic sided boot, the button boot, and the Balmoral boot.
In the 20th century, the face of footwear changed drastically from decade to decade. This was due in part to a variety of technological advances that made the shoemaking process simpler.
In the Bible’s Old Testament, the shoe is used to symbolize something that is worthless or of little value. In the New Testament, the act of removing one’s shoes symbolizes servitude.
A popular 18th-century nursery rhyme is There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. This story tells about an old woman living in a shoe with a lot of children.
Shoes also play an important role in the fairy tales Cinderella and The Red Shoes. In the movie adaption of the children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a pair of red ruby slippers play a key role in the plot.
Athletic sneaker collection has also existed as a part of urban subculture in the United States for several decades. A contributor to the growth of sneaker collecting is the continued worldwide popularity of the Air Jordan line of sneakers designed by Nike for Basketball star Michael Jordan.
The Electric Shoe Company was founded in March 2000 by British inventor Trevor Baylis and Texon International. Their aim is to develop a shoe which generates electricity through the act of walking. Prototypes were tested in August 2000 by Trevor Baylis and John Grantham (from Texon) during a 120 km trek into the Namibian desert. At the end of the walk, Trevor made a phone call to Richard Branson in the UK, using a mobile phone that had been charged by the shoes.
The longest fashion shoes – the pointed-toe shoe, first introduced in the late 11th Century, reached excessive lengths in the 14th & 15th Centuries. These piked shoes – also known as poulaines or crakowes, were as long as 45 cm (18 in).
The longest chain of shoes consisted of 24,962 shoes and was achieved by The Shoeman Water Projects at Stankowski Field at the University of Missouri, Columbia, USA on 7 May 2011. All the shoes were tied up in pairs and were placed heal-to-toe, spelling the word ‘Water’.
The most people polishing shoes is 800, achieved at an event organised by Asakusa Polishing Shoes World Challenge Executive Committee (Japan) at Asahi Shopping Street in Taito, Tokyo, Japan, on 22 November 2013.
The most expensive sports shoes ever marketed were mink-lined golf shoes with 18-carat gold embellishments and ruby-tipped spikes made by Stylo Matchmakers International of Northampton, Northamptonshire, UK costing £13,600 ($20,400) per pair. They were last made in 1993.