Pencil Stubs Online
Reader Recommends


Consider This

By LC Van Savage

Shoe, Shew, Or Shoo

Whenever you watch those shows about people who live in jungles or warm wild places, do you ever marvel about how the denizens of those areas run around in bare feet? Me too. They shin up trees, dance on dirt and sticks and stones, run silently about poison-darting dinner, clamber over big rocks and sometimes even over coral. No shoes ever, and it doesn’t seem to hurt them.

Can the human foot ever really be that tough? Apparently it can. Those hardy folks must have foot soles like steel threaded rubber on the tires of 18 wheelers. So it kinda makes one wonder about shoes, right? I mean if we can develop the bottoms of our feet to such a thickness, why would we ever wear shoes? OK, Mongo and I live in Maine, so let’s face reality; even if the soles of our feet were 5 inches thick and hard as tungsten, we’d be stumping around on blocks of clouded ice up to our thighs were we to decide to take a nice brisk barefoot walk in January. Umm—no. No thanks.

When did we humans start wearing shoes? And how on earth did something so utilitarian morph into the enormously expensive, 5 inch high, stiletto heeled, sexy, bone bending, dangerous articles of footwear we have now? And why?

Well folks, I’ll tell you. After much research I’ve discovered there is one really old shoe in existence, thought to be the oldest ever. A sandal. Definitely pre-Prada. In an Egyptian tomb. Made of woven papyrus and it was woven probably around 2000 BC. Boy, they sure don’t make sandals like they used to. Alas, its mate has yet to be found. Maybe it’s still buried somewhere in that tomb, but I feel for the poor guy who lost it. Hopping about on one papyrus shod foot had to be a painfully severe test of one’s mettle.

Shoe design eventually evolved from sandals to snug fitting shoes worn by Greek women, but only the upper class ladies, somewhere around 600 BC. It’s been determined that these women wore only white or red shoes because for reasons known only to ancient Greek dowagers, those two colors signaled to the poor folks that these well shod women were better than everyone else.

But then the good old Romans got into the act and made a huge deal out of shoes. Lots of different colors. Sandals to the knee. Some shoes were actually comfortable. The good ones were expensive. (Sound familiar?) And as for what to call these things on people’s feet, after seventeen different spellings, starting with “sceo” it moved on to “schewis”, then “shooys” and then the word we know today finally got into the English speaking world as “shoes.”

Thus it was that the British in 1305 under the ruling of King Edward I, made shoes into standard sizes, proclaiming that an inch would now be the length of three contiguous dried barleycorns, end to end. (For example, size 13 children’s shoes were thirteen dried barleycorns long.) And by the fourteenth century shoemakers began to pay more attention to left and right hand crafted shoes even though the Romans had decided to not bother with all that sort of luxury after the fall of the Empire.

In that same century the very long pointy shoe came into style, so dangerous that Edward II passed a law stating that shoes could not stick out any longer than 2 inches from the end of the owner’s toes. But eventually the Brits said, “hey, no way, Ed. Power to the people,” and they began wearing their shoes with 18 inches of protruding points from the ends of their toes. There are many records of them tripping on their own shoes and of everyone else tripping on their own shoes. It must have been a very funny scene on a crowded sidewalk back then seeing everyone falling all over each other’s 18 inch dangerously pointed but extremely modish toe tips. Women’s very high heeled shoes today look suspiciously like those weird shoes of yore. King Edward II would have not have approved of today’s women’s long long pointed shoes with very thin very high heels. Extremely bad for women, extremely bad for their feet, spines, hips, posture, backs, and knees, although extremely good for podiatrists.

Other styles came and went, their creators not giving a rat’s about the bones of the human foot, but giving those lucky podiatrists a more than decent living. One wonders about possible cahoots, right?

Barefootedness as a fashion statement came and went even though shoes had been invented. In the military, leaders of Egyptian and Sumerian armies, I guess to save a few bucks (or whatever bucks were back then) on their soldiers’ uniforms sent them off to fight barefoot. Now that had to smart. I mean was it not enough that they had to face being run through with spears, arrows and swords? Did their poor feet have to be sliced to bits too by the terrain they were ordered to charge across? War is hell.

Boots eventually became the rage too, at around the same time sandals with hobnailed soles came into vogue. And you thought hobnails were something farmers hammered into the soles of their boots, right? So did I. Who’d’a thunk they were used back in 1100 BC in Assyria? Never once occurred to me, although to be completely honest I don’t dwell too awfully much on hobnails.

Shoe, Shew, Or Shoo

And then the scourge of all feet everywhere; high heels. Ugh. Inventions of the devil, those and pantyhose. Sixteenth century. First thought to have been created to fit the foot securely into a stirrup, they eventually began to be added onto many shoes and boots giving altitude to people who were height-challenged, causing many of them to put on airs. Pumps came along in the 1500s, a kind of fancy slipper with a lower heel so named because of the plump, plump, plump sound they made as milady shuffled along the grand hallways. The slipper’s name eventually became “pump.” I’m really not making this up.

Loafers showed up, thought to be copied from the Norwegian clog and a blessing to guys like Mongo who has little tolerance for lace-up shoes and would even wear loafers to a white tie and tails ball, were we ever to be invited to such a ball, or to any ball at all, although were we to be, he’d polish his loafers first of course.

Sneakers? They began around 1910 and had quiet, sneaky rubber soles thanks to Charles Goodyear. I am hip deep in old shoes, loathing to throw any of them away just in case them come back into style, and yet I schlep around in sneakers nearly all the time and many of my juvenescent and geezer pals do too, except those women with a sense of style and beauty who wear elegant shoes the colors of which match the hems of their skirts. I cannot imagine a world without sneakers. To me, a world without sneakers would be a world without milk chocolate.

So there you have it although I’ve left an awful lot out because I’m not allowed to take up half of this newspaper. But isn’t the history of shoes interesting? I agree. Next I think I’d like to research the history of pockets.

Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.
Email LC at
See her on incredibleMAINE, MPBN,
10:30 AM Saturdays


Refer a friend to this Column

Your Name -
Your Email -
Friend's Name - 
Friends Email - 


Horizontal Navigator



To report problems with this page, email Webmaster

Copyright © 2002 AMEA Publications