What is the story of the shoe?
Throughout history designers of shoes have elevated them from practical coverings to protect the feet into status symbols, objects of beauty, and to some, of pure devotion.
Around the world we can find examples of dressing the feet which transcend function and become something other, a work of art, a social commentary, a barrier to movement in some cases rather than an aid to it!
Shoes are attributed the power to transform the wearer, the legend of Cinderella’s glass slipper crosses over from the realm of children’s story and into the consciousness of many.
The Victoria and Albert museum hosts and exhibition of shoes which begins in Ancient Egypt and treads a path to present day. The exhibition considers the status of shoes as objects of desire around the world and throughout history. There is evident a tension between function and symbolism in respect of shoes and it seems that the symbolic is ahead in the race!
So where does our concept of the significance of footwear emerge?
As children we are introduced to the shoe as a magical object, ruby slippers which can transport the wearer and of course that glass slipper left by a fleeing girl which is the key to her future at the side of her prince. Shoes are and always were a social divider. A privilege of wealth and also of status. In ancient Eygpt, Greece and Rome sandals were only for the ruling classes. Shoes often show no regard to the human anatomy and the feet are often distorted into a desirable rather than comfortable form, most notably the tiny shoes for lotus foot fashions in China.
Many aspects of a shoe can signify wealth and status, the materials used to create them or in many cases the height. The physical elevation equates to social elevation.
Shoes have long been fetish items, erotic indicators of dominance or passivity, humans have created heels which are so high they become impossible to walk in and therefore become a device of bondage and bindings for feet which can cause lifelong deformity, yet are hidden in beautifully embroidered silk slippers.
Shoes have transcended from simple cover to protect the foot into engineered icons, objects of desire, some purchased with no intention even to wear them,
Shoes pleasure and pain runs at the Victoria and Albert museum in London until the 31st of January 2016.