Obsolete Fashion: Top 10 (Seriously Cool) Historic Shoe Styles

Think you know every kind of footwear fathomed into existence by man and woman? Well, here’s a little run for your knowledge. See if you are, in fact, hot on the heels of such all-encompassing knowledge by reading this post, and catch a glimpse at a few shoes whose soles have been swallowed up by history.

10. Chopine. With roots in 15th-century Venice, these unbelievable platforms–which could tower up to a height of 30 inches–were symbolic of a wearer’s rank; the higher the platform, the higher the status the wearer. A similar shoe, the Manchu chopine, was a prevalent part of ancient Chinese womenswear.

Historical shoes - Caliga and Ataderos

Photos: Claude Cueni (left), Heritage Key

9. Caliga. If you were a soldier in ancient Rome, the caliga was what you would have worn while ‘Roman’ around! With their thick soles tacked by iron hobnails for traction, reinforcement, and defense, these strappy sandals could soldier on through many a terrifying trek.

8. Ataderos. Silver-clad ankle boots like these, which hail from the 12th-15th century Chimu culture of ancient Peru, were literally to die for in their day and age; they are thought to have been used in an upper echelon burial.

Historical shoes - Adelaide Boot and Slap Sole Shoe

Photos: History of Footwear (left), Reuters

7. Adelaide Boot. Named for the Queen Consort of William IV, these Victorian era booties were made of either silk or kid leather, and had no left-right differentiation. Their construction kept women’s ankles from being seen when their crinolines were scandalously swept atilt by the wind.

6. Slap Sole Shoe. Originally created in the 1630s to keep men’s riding heels from sinking into the mud, these unusual shoes were soon de rigeur for women (albeit in a much more decorative variety). And, as you may have guessed, the interesting name alludes to the sound the hinged sole made cracking against the shoe’s heel as one walked.

Historical shoes - Louis Heel and Poulaines

Photos: La Femme (left), CBBC

5. Louis Heel. Crafted for the 5 foot 3 Louis XIV, France’s “Sun King,” in order to make him look taller and, thus, more imposing, these unisex hourglass-shaped heels were flamboyantly decorated to indicate one’s privilege. A pair of circa 1660 heels Louis XIV owned were 5 inches tall and ornately decorated with battle scenes.

4. Poulaines. Also known as crackowes, these 15th century shoes had toes so long and narrow that they often had to be reinforced with whalebone or tied to the leg with a string so that the wearer could walk.

3. Lotus Shoes. In contrast to the incredibly long poulaines, the unbelievably small, ornately embroidered lotus shoes were what Chinese women with bound feet wore from olden times through to the early 20th century.

2. Chestnut Crushing Clogs. These nutty-looking contraptions were, thankfully, not worn as everyday footwear. Rather, they were used in 19th-century France to, as the name implies, separate acorn and chestnut shells from the nut meat, and subsequently grind the nut for flour or feed.

1.  Kabkab. Fascinating shoes like these, also known as nalin, were donned by Turkish women when they went to the hammam. Wearing these, women wouldn’t have to step on the steaming, heated floor. It is even thought that these shoes may have influenced the creation of the European chopine!

Which of these shoes do you find the most fascinating? Or, is there something not on the list that intrigues you even more?

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  1. Katie 08/02/2010 at 3:46 pm #

    I would totally wear 5 or 6, but then again I study the 17th and 18th centuries….

  2. RachelC 08/02/2010 at 3:59 pm #

    Number ten and number one are seriously mind-blowing. 🙂

  3. Kirstin 08/02/2010 at 4:31 pm #

    These are unbelievable! Fantastic discoveries!

  4. Eleanor 08/02/2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Number one and ten are very Lady GaGa, don’t you think!? Haha. Amazing!


  5. Bri 08/02/2010 at 7:13 pm #

    well, number 9 looks likes something people would wear today. i would 🙂

  6. Leah 08/02/2010 at 11:50 pm #

    Something makes me think that considering the first pair, 15th century fashionistas would consider us somewhat tame today…

  7. Angela 08/03/2010 at 2:57 am #

    amazing!! i can see where we get some of our heels today, but i can’t imagine wearing #1 at all! great post!


  8. Renee 08/03/2010 at 5:58 am #

    Definitely would wear no. 5. It reminds me of the spool heel that I use to wear in the 1960’s and 1970’s. And the had the op art painted and designed on them too.

  9. Angela (ModCloth) 08/03/2010 at 10:55 am #

    I have this book on my desk for inspiration. It’s really cool! http://amzn.to/bfjW06

    • Danielle 09/08/2010 at 5:32 pm #

      I think I have a new book to buy!
      Thank you!

  10. Anna M. 08/03/2010 at 11:53 am #

    I’m boggled by the long-toed poulaines! (#5). The other styles seem to have some reason they evolved (e.g. 1 & 5 for height and status; 10 for height and function; 9,7,6,3,2 for a specific function; 8 for ceremony), but the poulaine seems kind of random! Why would people want a long toe? Even a high heel is understandable, as height imparts a sense of authority and power…but long, pointy feet? I wonder where it was from, too…

  11. Amy 08/03/2010 at 2:00 pm #

    I’m currently in a production of a Shakespeare play, and I have to wear poulaines as part of my costume. It definitely took a little while to get used to wearing a shoe with a toe four inches longer than it should be!

  12. Victoria 08/03/2010 at 4:45 pm #

    Love the poulaines!

  13. Jensen Elayne 08/03/2010 at 8:13 pm #

    Incredibly mind blowing, I’m head over heels in love with these discoveries!

  14. Beverly 08/12/2010 at 11:30 pm #

    Wow. A great post, highly informative and entertaining. Those photos were a feast for the eyes.

  15. Annie 08/13/2010 at 2:59 am #

    Amazing post!

  16. Danielle 09/08/2010 at 5:32 pm #

    I adore number 5.
    If you’ve ever read ‘The Shoe Queen’ it sounds a lot like this. These are all super interested, but imagine walking in number ten!

  17. Josefina 11/16/2010 at 2:01 am #

    Poulaines are so cool, but I am a bit of a Medieval/Renaissance Faire nerd! The Roman sandals should be left in the gladiator arena, though.

  18. Abby 11/19/2010 at 10:56 pm #

    Uhhh, how would you walk in #1? there isn’t anything to keep your foot on the shoe, is there?

  19. Annamaria 12/04/2010 at 2:55 am #

    I love the chopines and louis heels.

  20. Alyssa 12/12/2010 at 12:10 am #

    I absolutely love numbers 5 and 9. Would totally wear them. We even have a variation of 9 today. I thought number 10 was crazy…until I saw number 1. How woudl you even walk in those? It doesn’t look like there’s any way to attach it to your foot…

  21. Ms. Belladonna 01/19/2011 at 1:38 pm #

    I’ll definitely wear number 7, and 9. Number 10 makes me want to throw up; and I don’t know why.

  22. rach 02/03/2012 at 10:09 pm #

    I think number 5 shoes are absolutely beautiful, i almost died when i saw them!! haha. i also really like number sevens, but i pretty much love Victorian Era fashion anyway. i did really like the look of the number 3’s, until i found out that the Chinese women with bound feet had to wear them, it was already hard enough to walk with broken up feet, let alone in those shoes with their silly shaped heels! all in all loving this collection of interesting and unique shoes! 🙂

  23. Lauren 05/15/2012 at 2:31 pm #

    I went chestbut picking while studying abroad in France, and if I might say so, those chestnut crusing clogs would have been really useful! I didn’t realize chestnuts were so spiky on the outer shell! What a smart invention.

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