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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