shoe, foot covering, usually of leather, consisting of a sole and a portion above the sole called an upper. In prehistoric times skins or hides may have been tied around the foot for protection and warmth; studies of the foot bones of ancient humans suggest that some form of sturdy footwear was worn by human beings beginning between 40,000 and 26,000 years ago. The shoes found with the 5,300-year-old “Ice Man” in the Tyrolean Alps were made of skins and braided-bark netting and stuffed with straw and moss; an even older, leather shoe, some 5,500 years old, was found in 2008 in an Armenian cave. The sandal, a very early form of the shoe, was worn in Egypt, Greece, and Rome; a more ancient example (c.8000 b.c.), woven from plant materials, was found in an Oregon cave. An early form of the boot was also known in Greece and Rome. The characteristic shoe of the Middle Ages was the soft, clinging moccasin, which extended to the ankle. It was highly decorated and was of velvet, cloth of gold, and, increasingly, of leather. By the 13th cent. the toe had become greatly elongated until a century later the point had to be held aloft by a chain attached to the knee. After 1377 wooden clogs, called poulaines or pattens, were introduced. A forerunner of the heeled shoe, they were fastened under the shoe (if not a part of the shoe itself) to protect it from mud or water. The chopine, an ornamental shoe with a very high sole, went to fantastic heights. After 1500, styles reversed themselves, and the width of the toe was exaggerated; two colors and slashing were often employed to complement the costume. The high heel came into fashion with Elizabeth's reign in the late 16th cent. and was worn by both men and women; the shoe was colorfully decorated with rosettes, lace, and embroidery. France introduced (c.1600) the high-top boot which developed into the cavalier's boot with its wide, floppy top. The late 17th cent. saw the emergence of the square toe, high tongue, and buckles. Heels were lowered, becoming the French curved heel, until they disappeared (c.1780). With the new Empire styles, flat soft shoes with ribbon ties became the style for women, and military boots became the vogue for men. Guilds of shoemakers or cobelers existed in the Middle Ages; in the American colonies, the earliest known shoemaker was Thomas Beard, who arrived in Salem, Mass., in 1629. Early shoemakers worked at home, in small shops, or as itinerant workers who went to homes to make up the annual supply. Hand processes were used until c.1833; thereafter the rapid invention and development of machinery revolutionized the industry; today over 180 different kinds of machines are employed. As machinery became more specialized and the use of leather became primary, shoe styles and measurements became more refined and exact. From the high button shoe of the late 19th cent. to the low-cut pump of modern times (popular after 1920), the range of materials has increased, and styles are designed for every purpose and need.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Clothing, Jewelry, and Personal Adornment