For the love of shoes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My oldest daughter loves shoes and doesn‘t hide it. A trip with her to the shoe store is an interesting experience because for her a shoe store is heaven. She moves though rows of shoes in a state of wonder and finding a perfect pair on sale is bliss.

I‘ve never given much thought to what I put on my feet. I like cute shoes and I enjoy ones that are comfortable, but I never developed an appreciation for shoes in the way she has.

However, after seeing a commercial pointing out the things we can do because we have shoes, I saw them in a different light and went on a search to learn more about shoes. What I discovered is that footwear played a role in human development.

In fact, evidence suggests shoes, or foot coverings were one of the first things invented by people. They had to have foot covering to protect feet from sharp rocks, burning sands and rough terrain. It was probably easier to escape a wild beast and make it back to the cave safely if you were not hoping around trying to avoid sharp rocks.

I never thought about how limited life might be without shoes, cute or otherwise. Right now I am wearing lined, fuzzy shoes that keep my toes cozy and warm. Think of folks who live where it snows. Without shoes those toes would be frozen.

Records from Egypt, China and other early civilizations contain references to shoes. Even the Bible mentions shoes and they show up in legends and myths. For example, Mercury’s winged sandals, Puss in Boots and Cinderella. I always wanted a pair of those glass slippers.

Shoes were indicators of power in some societies. The lower class in ancient Egypt walked around with bare feet, but murals dating from 3500 B.C. depict early versions of shoes worn mostly by the higher classes. Surely, it says something about human development that class doesn‘t determine who has shoes these days, at least not in this country.

High heels came to be because Catherine de Medici who was engaged to the Duke of Orleans, later the King of France, was quite small and felt insecure knowing she would be the Queen and in competition with the Duke’s favorite, taller mistress, Diane de Poitiers. To compensate she wore heels two inches high to give her a more towering physique and an alluring sway. So high heels became associated with privilege. I associate them with pinched toes, but oh, they look good.

So much out there to learn about shoes. There was the arrival of moccasins, wooden soled shoes, buckles for shoes, the first time there was a right shoe and a left shoe instead of a one-fits-both feet design. Then came the invention of shoe making machines allowing for mass production of shoes. The closet floor covered with shoes probably came on the heels of the shoe-making machine.

The oldest surviving shoes date back around 10,000 years and are sandals made of rope. The oldest leather shoe turned up in a cave in Armenia and was about 5,500 years old.

Studies of foot anatomy in ancient skeletons show a change in feet between 26,000 – 30,000 years ago, when the smaller toe bones appear less robust, due, experts believe, to the support given by shoes. (I wonder what a robust toe looks like as opposed to a less robust one.)

Shoes have certainly been with us a while and where might we be today without them. Perhaps we’d be sitting around texting in caves afraid to venture out into the world for fear of stubbing a toe or cutting a foot on a sharp rock.

Maybe my daughter has the right idea. Shoes are something for which I should have more appreciation — a little thing I barely give thought to that should get much more of my gratitude because it makes my life better.

You know, she also loves purses. I might need to look into their role in human development.