• Thursday, January 29, 2015


Footwear through the ages...

By Laila Karim

Shoes or 'padukas', as they were once known, was not part of an ordinary man's attire. It brought style to the aristocrats and was also a symbol of power. The common man was not allowed to wear shoes and walk in front of the houses of influential people of the land, let alone wear them on social occasions.
If I remember correctly, even as late as the mid-50s, I saw people burrowing shoes to wear on special days or while visiting in-laws, affluent relatives, etc. The footwear were lent with explicit instructions as to not have them spoiled under any circumstances. The burrower would therefore, often, carry the shoes to his destination and put it on only upon reaching the place.

Today, almost everyone has at least one pair of shoes or so we may think. It is a matter of dismay that even in today's society many neglected communities of Bangladesh and people of certain vocations are still not allowed to wear everyday shoes.
Broadly classified under 'shoes' or 'juta' in Bengali, the footwear has had a long journey in history. Initially they were made from wood and called 'khorom'. Many readers of the older generation would recall the distinct sound of the 'khorom' made while the elderly in the family walked. The simple 'khorom' however was not devoid of a fashion statement. Some were designed in the shape of a fish, which traditionally symbolised fertility and affluence in the Indian culture. This had continued for generations in the past till the advent of the rubber sandals and pump shoes which made 'khoroms' extinct.
Then came the age of sandals, made from what seemed like galvanised rubber of which tyres were made. Bata came into fashion prominence in this region in the 1960s. Millennia after being incorporated in the lives of only the rich, elite and priests, the shoe was finally affordable and common enough for the common man.
The earliest known shoes are sandals dated from approximately 7,000 or 8,000 BC found in the Fort Rock Cave in the US State of Oregon in 1938. 

The world's oldest leather shoe made from a single piece of cowhide laced with a leather cord along seams at the front and back, was found in a cave in Armenia in 2008 and is believed to date to 3,500 BC.
It is estimated that shoes may have been used long before this, but it is difficult to find evidence of the earliest footwear due to the highly perishable nature of early shoes. These earliest footwear were very simple in design, often mere "foot bags" of leather to protect the feet from rocks, debris, and cold. They were more commonly found in colder climates.

Shown in the illustration are some of the samples displayed in the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada. The Museum's flagship exhibition --  All About Shoes, is a voyage through 4500 years of footwear,  its evolution, uses over time, methods and materials of manufacture, and its place in our lives and imaginations -- including ancient funerary sandals, Chinese silk shoes, haute couture pumps and a display of celebrity shoes found in the "Star Turns" mini-theatre.
The Museum celebrates the style and function of footwear in four impressive galleries. Footwear on display ranges from Chinese bound foot shoes and ancient Egyptian sandals to chestnut-crushing clogs and glamorous platforms. The museum is rich with over a collection of 20th-century celebrity shoes in the semi-permanent exhibition halls. The Museum's unique collection numbers over 12,500 artefacts and ranges from the earliest civilizations on earth to the catwalks of today's leading designers.  A very interesting place to see the historical journey of the shoe.
The Bata Shoe Museum was established on 6 May, 1995 in downtown Toronto, Canada. The museum collects, researches, preserves, and exhibits footwear from around the world. It is home to the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of shoes and footwear-related artefacts. The museum's assortment of celebrity footwear is a popular attraction; it includes ballroom slippers worn by Queen Victoria, blue patent loafers of Elvis Presley, John Lennon's Beatle boot and Pablo Picasso's zebra striped boot. The semi-permanent exhibition, All About Shoes: Footwear Through the Ages, features diverse footwear from many historical periods and geographic areas and looks at its significance in various cultural practices and phases of life.
The three changing exhibitions are usually on display for one to two years and may focus on a specific time period, geographic area, or an aspect of material culture. Approximately 10,000 students come to the museum every year on field trips. A must visit - place while you are in Toronto next time!


Published: 12:00 am Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Last modified: 9:57 pm Tuesday, January 21, 2014

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