From beating away the devil to a status-symbol - The evolution of shoes
PUBLISHED: 10:37 24 March 2018 | UPDATED: 13:25 24 March 2018
An exhibition dedicated to shoes explores the changing role of British footwear, from functionality to beating away the devil.
The Lynn Museum’s Shoes! exhibition includes footwear from the Medieval Period to the present day, chronicling the expressive and status symbol-like role they have played in peoples lives.
One of the earliest shoes found in King’s Lynn dates back to 1250. The town’s low-lying lands proved essential in the preservation of waterlogged shoe leather. During the 1960s, large areas of Lynn were excavated and archeologists came across more than 400 shoe soles and leather scraps from cobbling, including one cobbler’s bench where Marks & Spencer stands today.
During the Middle Ages, old, worn-out shoes were kept hidden in a building in various places, such as in chimneys, doorways and windows. This was thought to bring good luck into the household and ward away evil spirits. Medieval saints used shoes to beat off the devil, and this association is still prevalent in some Middle Eastern countries, where showing the soles of your shoes is a sign of disrespect. Throwing your shoe is even worse - as former US president George Bush would know, when in 2008 he dodged two shoes being flung at him by an Iraqi journalist.
Between the 17th and 19th century, womens shoes that were intricately designed and made with silk and brocade were handed down through generations as heirlooms. These decorative shoes were made to be worn on the odd occasion, but they were admired for their craftsmanship and showed off wealth.
These green commemorative slippers were made in Swaffham in 1885 to mark the opening of the Suez Canal by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. The immaculate shoes are decorated with glass beads and were made for remembrance rather than to be worn.
First World War
At the outbreak of war, shoes were made to be more practical but new designs began to emerge to aid soldiers in battle. Military leather boots included studded soles, steel toecaps and heels.
With the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 came a craze which gripped the world - Egyptomania. Fashion for women began to change dramatically around this time - hemlines got shorter and clothing got bolder, and so with the renewed interest in Egyptian history fashion designers took advantage of this trend. Old newspaper clippings show Buntings department store in Swaffham and Hunstanton sold Egyptian-style clothing and shoes, which were mass-produced in factories following developments in machinery during the First World War.
The High Street
During the 1930s, the look of the High Street began to change. Department stores such as Marks & Spencer and Burtons set up shop in King’s Lynn town, and the Catleughs of Lynn had stores in Norfolk Street and Broad Street. These stores encompassed all of a retailers needs - where clothing, shoes and other garments could be purchased in one place. During this decade, the most fashionable trend for men were two-toned shoes.
Second World War
As women joined the war effort in the 1940s, shoes were being produced on a mass scale. Resourceful designers would use crocodile and snake skin as an alternative to calf leather. Womens shoes were made more functional as many were working in fields and factories. It was around this period when ration cards were handed out to residents from King’s Lynn Town Hall. People were giving 66 coupons for clothing each year until rationing stopped in 1949.
In the 1950s, younger people had more disposable income and so fashion began to change to capture the younger market. It was the era of thick-soled creepers and Teddy Boy shoes. For women, the stiletto heel became a hot trend, named as such for its resemblance to a dagger with a needle-like pointed blade.
Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walking, released in 1966, boosted the sales of Go-Go boots - low-heeled, mid-calf leather boots which came in a variety of colours, with white being the most popular. Whiskey a Go Go, the go-to venue for 60s rock stars in Hollywood, found its way to King’s Lynn. The Italian milk bar in Broad Street was a hotspot for hotshots, with many other bars opening in London.
A platform for shoes
The 1970s was the disco era and fashion no longer had any rules. Platform shoes - with thick soles and thick heels - were not just limited to women but became a must-have for men following the commercial success of Saturday Night Fever. The movie is best remembered for John Travolta’s whacky dance moves and eccentric shoes to match.
The digital revolution has transformed the purpose of a shoe and what it can do for wearers. Using cutting-edge technology, footwear can be fitted with sensors to relay information to a person’s smartphone, and some sports brands are using 3D printing to custom-make shoes for the individual.
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