Monday, May 3, 2010

On a Pedestal at the Bata Shoe Museum (Part II)

The shift from chopines to high heels that occurred in the 16th century is also an important part of the exhibition On a Pedestal at the Bata Shoe Museum.  In the 1590s, the heel was adopted in Western dress and worn by men during riding to help secure the foot in the stirrup. How this fashion spread to women is somewhat unclear.

Copyright of Museum of Fine Arts Boston 2010

During this period, some of the shoes appear to be an odd combination of a small platform and a heel. I asked curator Elizabeth Semmelhack to explain how these slap-soled shoes came to be:

Copyright of the Royal Ontario Museum 2010

"When heels were first introduced into Western dress from the Near East their original purpose was embraced.  Heels kept the foot in the stirrup when horse back riding.  However, when the rider dismounted, his high heels would sink into the mud. So in the early 17th century, men began to slip their high heeled shoes or boots into a pair of flat-soled mules to prevent their heels from sinking into the mud.  The wearing of mule with shoes or boots did prevent the heel from sinking into the mud but when the wearer attempted to walk a loud slapping sound could be heard made by the sole of the mule slapping against the heel of the shoe or boots---similar to the noise that flip flops make I would guess. Women’s fashion followed men’s in the early 17th century so they too began to wear slap-soles but women’s slap-soles often feature the heel secured to the mule sole so that they did not make noise when they walked.  This was okay for women’s footwear because women had no need to separate their high heeled shoes from their mules as they were not going to go horseback riding." 

Copyright of the Bata Shoe Museum 2010

I was particularly taken with this lovely boy's shoe (shown below) with jaunty ribbons and a painted red sole which conveyed socio-political status and privilege. (Note: Christian Louboutin was not the first shoemaker to paint the soles red!).

Copyright of the Bata Shoe Museum 2010

Visit the Bata Shoe Museum before September 20, 2010 to see this unique exhibition On a Pedestal. The beautifully written and lavishly photographed exhibition catalogue On a Pedestal, From Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels by Elizabeth Semmelhack is available at the museum gift-store (416-979-7799 for phone orders) and also on-line from this art books website.