Analysing a Footwear Style

This is a section of an article I wrote to go with a class I was asked to teach on an overview of period shoes. The actual article isn’t finished yet because I’m clinically incapable of being concise, but this section is amenable to being chopped out and pasted in here.

Analysing a Footwear Style
When analysing a style of footwear for potential reproduction the main questions we need to ask are when, where, who and what. Primarily these apply to information gained from iconographic sources, but we also need to understand the circumstances in the time and place archaeological finds were deposited and how these may affect the type of footwear in use and the readiness and manner in which it would be discarded [Goubitz et al, 2001, p.77].

Archaeological finds are usually well dated, making it possible to make a chronologically accurate association with the rest of an outfit being reproduced, but without knowing things like the social and economic status of it’s owner and the region it was found at the time it was discarded there will always be questions about it’s appropriateness. When it comes to early finds approximate chronological accuracy is sometimes the best we can hope for, but as we move later into the period and more information is available it is easier to make appropriate reconstruction decisions.

When is the find or depiction dated to?
The answer to this question provides critical context when looking at 800 years worth of material. It is also important in the context of how artistic depictions changed over time, whether there are details visible or just the general shape of the shoe and how the clothing of the period may be concealing shoes, making their depiction in art rare and driving us more towards the archaeological record.

Where are they?
Which country are they in? Are they at market or at war? Are they riding, posing for a portrait, tending to the poor or attending to the king? Are they indoors or out? If they are outdoors are they in a rural or urban area? what is the state of the ground they are walking on, its it dry or muddy? Does the state of their clothing indicate they are hot, or are they bundled up against the cold?

Who did the shoe belong to?
What was their profession and station in life? The shoes worn by a peasant working in a field are going to be different from the shoes worn by a well-to-do court member or a king, and some professions may have necessitated unusual modifications to footwear such as additional soles nailed onto miner’s shoes to protect from rocks [Goubitz et al, 2001, p.77].

Are they likely to have owned more than one pair of shoes and so been able to choose their footwear according to their activities and conditions? As a general rule most aspects of the clothing and footwear associated with depictions of foreign or religious figures or any other figure the artist is trying to portray as foreign, mysterious or allegorical should be approached with extreme caution.

Analysis of size data shows that, with few exceptions, gender does not appear to be a significant factor in differentiating styles of footwear through tine middle ages, the same styles were worn by both men and women, and generally also by children [Grew and de Neergaard, 2002, p.103].

What are they wearing?
Are they wearing boots or shoes? How high up the leg? How are they fastened? How many fastenings are there? Is there a tongue? What shape is the toe? Are they wearing pattens? What color are they? Are they decorated, pierced or patterned? If they are pierced is the visible color through the piercings the same as the hose they are wearing? What does the style of the rest of their clothing tell us about the likely date?

References (See “Books” Sidebar)
[Goubitz et al, 2001] Goubitz, Olaf and van Driel-Murray, Carol and Groenman-van Waateringe, Willy. 2001. Stepping Through Time; Archaeological Footwear from Prehistoric Times until 1800. Zwolle. Foundation for Promoting Archaeology (Stichting Promotie Archeologie). ISBN 90-801044-6-9.

[Grew and de Neergaard, 2002] Grew, Francis and de Neergaard, Margrethe. 2002. Medieval Finds From Excavations in London: 2 Shoes and Pattens. Boydell Press. Suffolk. ISBN 0-85115-838-2

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