Monday, August 12, 2013
A complete history of the humble sandal
The origin of thongs is pre-history and extends long before today’s plastic plungers and double plungers. Sandals have beautified feet since the beginning of civilization and were worn to adorn, complement status, and demonstrate station. Unlike today’s ‘doggy thongs,’ wearing sandals was a privilege restricted to only the few. Thongs have been around for at least 10,000 years which coincides with the Neolithic Age (or New Stone Age). Speculative footprints indicate the presence of shoes before that but animal and vegetable materials rarely survive so archeological evidence is scant. What is available comes from wide geographical locations (America, China, Egypt and Mesopotamia) supporting the theory footwear was a spontaneous innovation made from available resources and consistent with the development of craft.
Early Prehistoric Sandals
The oldest known were discovered in Fort Rock Cave, Oregon (1938) and these were sandals made from woven sagebrush bark. Radiocarbon dating indicates these are at least 10,000 years old. The sandals consisted of a foot platform (made from woven fabric) with toe and heel attachments (thongs). The Oregon sandals had a base made of five pieces of rope (longer than the foot) and woven together with loops left on either side. The front part was folded to protect the toes and the sandal was strapped with a thong which linked the side loops. Rabbit fur and pine needles were sometimes added for padding. These early sandals are consistent with a high calibre of basketry. Techniques included weaving, sewing, plaiting and twisting. More recent finds date to 7,500-year-old and demonstrate a range of styles with pointed and rounded toes, many with decorative flourishes. Inference here is early sandals were more than just functional protectors. Closer inspection revealed these shoes were well worn with some showing obvious signs of repair. Grass padding integrated into the upper surface of the soles suggest custom cushioning. The first evidence of sown animal hides in footwear dates to 6500 years ago with the discovery of the Iceman. Many believe skins came to represent the admirable elements of animals, such as swiftness and bravery and may have held magical powers to believers. In any event clothing began to distinguish rank and status.
Indigenous Australian Sandals
Examples of earl sandals found in Australia are rare not least because few indigenous tribes are thought to have worn shoes. Where examples do exist, (i.e. some tribes in the Northern Territory and adjoining desert country these appear to be of similar style to New Stone Age sandals
Bronze and Iron Age Sandals
By the beginning of the Cradle of Civilization (Sumeria circa 4th millennium BCE). ) footwear, as we recognize today, was more evident although reserved for the privileged. The Sumerians were noted artisans and wore clothing made from animal skins. Their sumptuary influence continued into other early civilizations and Aristocracy wore sandals with a turned up toe (circa 3000 BCE). The earliest known depictions of turned up pointed shoes appears on the Assyrian, Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (circa 841 BCE). Bending the toes back toes was thought to be a practical innovation to assist with walking. Elevated sandals (as in wedged heels) crafted in fabric or soft leather and adorned with jewelry. Flat thongs were adapted for soldiers (1370 BCE) and once the seafaring Phoenicians (1550 BCE to 300 BCE) discovered leather dyeing; colours became a badge of authority. Their trading ensured fashionable footwear spread and was shared with Ancient Egypt (3200 BCE – 343 BCE), India (2800 BCE - 1500 BCE) and China. The Babylonians (1696 – 1654 BCE) preferred leather sandals made from fine kid leathers, dyed red, perfumed footwear decorated with trinkets.. The Persians (600BCE) wore more exotic wooden sandals with a toe separator between the first and second toe. Platform in style these were intricately inlaid with pearl and other semi precious stones and commonly worn in bath houses and harems. Persian priests wore well made sandals made by expert workman. Despite wooden sandals being widespread the armies of Alexander the Great (356 - 323 BCE), conquered half the world, barefoot. Soldiers did wear sandals with brass leg protectors (greaves).
In the presence of superiors it was common practice to remove sandals and throughout antiquity shoes represented to may walking in a worldly place and their association with animals meant they were removed on holy ground.
The Greeks 3500 -200BCE
(Sandal is derived the Greek, ‘sandalon’)
,br> Ancient Greeks valued feet and adapted footwear for every type of activity. Designs emphasized beauty and elegance, refinement, extravagance and rich ornamentation, especially for women. During Hellenic times sumptuary laws often prevented most Greek women from wearing more than three articles of clothing and hence most went barefoot. Aphrodite was often depicted naked except for a pair of sandals.
Footwear was used to distinguished station with height and colour, clear indications of social class. Strap and thing arrangements varied but most consisted of a broad band across the front of the foot with a thong between the toes. Pedula were wooden sandal which was cut to fit either foot. Felt soled sandals were cut to left and right. Strap arrangements and individual designs became more important. Courtesans wore soft leather footwear dyed white, green, lemon or yellow. Betrothed girls and young brides wore sandals made from dyed white leather. Greek warriors (hoplites) wore body amour with heavy leg covers but no shoes. By the time of Homer (1000-700 BCE), the Krepis (soldier’s shoe) was a thong with ankle strapping and a tongue (or linula over the instep). These were adapted for woman and lady's Krepis were brightly coloured, anklet sandal preferred by women of ill repute (or salmakides). The early sexworkers caught the attention of their clients with a "clack" sound made when wooden thongs hit audibly against stone. Some adopted the Mediterranean custom of carving “Follow Me,” on the undersurface of the soles.
Philosophers and comic actors wore baxeae, i.e. sandals made from willow leaves, twigs, or fibres. Tragic actors, horsemen, hunters, and men of rank and authority were platform sandals (Kothormos /cothurnus) made with layers of cork. In Greek mythology sandals had significance and were generally thought to separate mortals from the Underworld (Hell). Consequently shoe adornments with amulets or cosmetikos, became popular. In both Greek and Roman Times the carved tongue or lingual (free spirit), was the indication of a free person or citizen.
The Egyptians 3000- 200 BCE
,br> According to O’Keeffe (1996), early sandals were made from foot imprints in wet sand. Braided papyrus was molded into soles and held to the feet with rawhide thongs. The oldest surviving examples date to1,500 BCE. By then the craft was well established and sandal makers were depicted in the Tomb of Rekhmire at the Necropolis of Thebes. The process was broken into different components and constructed with a thicker outsole and thinner insole made from softer leather. Layers were stitched together with waxed threads and special tools developed for specific tasks. When these artisans mastered tanning they used animal, vegetable and mineral oils to ‘taw’ the leather (turned white) before dying them rich colours. The process was expensive and sumptuous costume remained the preserve of the affluent but peasants did wear plain sandals. Styles and design consolidated rank or status. Pharaoh's sandals had peaked toes which served no particular function other than denoted a high born person (1200 BCE).
Queens of the Nile were admired for their bejeweled footwear. The section of the sandal where toe thongs were attached was called 'nkh”. Many experts believe the Ankh (symbol for life) represents a flattened thong and the fertile female took care to protect the earth as she walked across it. It was during the New Kingdom (1540-1070 BCE), Egyptian soldiers began to wear woven leather sandals which offered some protection. By 1300 BCE shoes became more common and barefooting was déclassé.
In the tradesmen tombs at Deir-el-Medineh (19th Dynasty 1298 to 1187 BCE), there were several pairs of funereal sandals. Some were unworn and others had evidence of everyday wear. In the tomb of the boy king, Tutankhamen (1292 BC) a large collection of shoes and sandals were found. These were made from a variety of materials and included gold, vegetable fibre, birch bark, glass and faience, leather, and gemstones, in his tomb. A couple of pairs of open sandals had the middle part stuffed for extra comfort. Another three pairs had horizontal straps below the toes; one pair also had semi-circular panels at the shoe's sides. These features are not generally seen and many authorities believe these additions were used to compensate for foot deformities. The ancient Egyptians modified shoe styles for different occupations e.g. butchers, and by the 5c BCE, papyrus sandals were required and characteristic dress of Egyptian priests.
Egyptians celebrated the wealth of other Mediterranean civilizations by depicting people with different size toes i.e. the Greeks had a long great toe, the Romans, a second digit, and the Mesopotamians, the third toe. The thong or toe strap was distinctive and depending on which toe was involved representative of the different civilizations. Egyptians drew faces of their enemies on their sandals so they could stand on them.
Biblical Sandals 1900BCE
There is no surviving artifacts or descriptions of Judean shoes from the period of the early Bible. However footwear did appear to hold significance to the early Israelites. Hebrews most possibly learned tanning from the Egyptians during their captivity (circa 13th century BCE) and took the trade with them. According to Exodus (12:11); the fleeing slaves wore sandals. "This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the LORD.”
Possibly the first shoe miracle to be described ever was in Deuteronomy 29:15
“During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet.”
Biblical sandals were either leather or wooden footboards held to the foot with finer leather thongs. The lyric in the Song of Songs (circa 900 BCE) confirms sandals were worn by the high born.
"How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince's daughter! Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of a craftsman's hands.” (Song of Songs 7:1).
By the 8th century BCE., the elders of Jerusalem were concerned at the footwear of the young women many of which were elevated and decorated with serpents, (Isaiah 3 16-20).
“Moreover, the LORD said, “Because the daughters of Zion are proud
and walk with heads held high and seductive eyes,
And go along with mincing steps
And tinkle the bangles on their feet,
Therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs,
And the LORD will make their foreheads bare.”
In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, finger rings, nose rings, festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses, hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans and veils.
Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume there will be putrefaction;
Instead of a belt, a rope;
Instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp;
Instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth;
And branding instead of beauty. “
Traditional Jewish law Torah, (Laws of Moses; and the Shulchan Aruch, (Code of Jewish law) regulated the life of the individual including footwear and how to put on and tale off sandals. Right first and always tied from the left. This was done principally as a conscious mark of reverence as well a clear indication of who they were. By the end of the first century shoes became associated with sensuousness, comfort, luxury and pleasure and thought of wearing shabby or worn out shoes was déclassé. In antiquity the Jews of Tripoli were buried with all their shoes but otherwise Jewish burial left the feet unshod but the feet were covered with a shroud.
Walking was the primary means of travel and the disciples were encouraged to protect their feet when called upon to spread the gospel. They were cautioned against wearing anything other than humble sandals, least they offended ‘would be ‘converts.
The Holy Prophet, Muhammad (570 – 632) regarded shoes as impure. He commanded all dirt to be removed from shoes prior to praying. Eventually the practice of removing shoes prior to prayer became symbolic. Pragmatically shoes with pressed down heels i.e. babouches became preferred footwear of Muslims. The Moorish Empire dwarfed the Roman Empire and flowed into the Middle Ages taking with it soft and sumptuous Moroccan leathers with new shoe designs. The centre of shoemaking was Cordova, Spain which began to influence the costume of the occidental courts.
The Etruscans and Romans
Rome conquered Greece in 146 BCE, but Greeks styles prevailed. The Romans had however taken the innovations of the Etruscans (800 – 264 BCE) and stiffen their sandals with tacks thus ensuring the sole and upper remained intact. Hobnails (or clavata) were added to their Caligula. These heavy-soled sandals were worn by all ranks up to and including, centurions. More robust footwear allowed Romans to travel greater distances and one credible reason why the Roman Empire grew so big. In fact the margins were so far from Rome, the capital could no longer supply distant outposts with essential clothing and the conquerors were forced to train local craftsmen in the art of Roman sandal making. In return local footwear styles like Galoshes from Gaul were adapted. Caches of Roman sandals found in the UK reveal, two millennium ago people had the same feet and foot problems as we do today. Sandals (with linula) became the prerogative free citizens of Rome. In the more luxurious days of the late Roman Empire, sandals were decorated with gold and precious stones. To celebrate a victorious return, heroes replaced the bronze nails, with gold or silver tacks. Colour became the distinguishing feature of social status and critical factor for the glitterati. Red was the colour for high magistrates but later became the Emperor's prerogative. When footwear became too ostentatious, fancy sandals was banned because they offended Caesar’s favour. Claudius II /Nero (AD 37-68) was a spendthrift who wore silver soled shoes. His is wife Poppaea, had sandals made from poured gold with straps encrusted with rare stones. Nero’s indulgencies however brought the empire to the brink of bankruptcy. To save the day he decreed all gold and silver coins be returned to the treasury to be replaced with base metal currency. Citizens began hoarding their previous metals and shoemakers were quick to cash in offering footwear for real money. Shoe making became clandestine with expensive footwear encrusted with diamonds and precious metals being sold under the counter and often at night. Many early Christian converts became sandal makers earning their living at night and spreading the gospels during the day.
Emperor Heliogabalus (AD 218-222) preferred shoes decorated with diamonds and other precious stones engraved by the finest artists. Never seen in the same boots twice he took great exception to patricians wearing ornamented shoes and tried unsuccessfully to stop the fashion. Emperor Lucius Domitius Aurelianus (AD 270 - 275) was more concerned about men’s shoes and forbade them from wearing red, yellow and green shoes. He did however relent and allowed patricians to choose materials and colours freely. Julius Caesar reserved red and purple for himself and his sons. Further sumptuary laws and price controls were later imposed by Gaius Valerius Diocletianus (AD 245-313), in AD 301 by which time footwear was available in many styles and colours each reflecting class distinctions. After the fall of the Roman Empire sandal making was almost lost to Europe and kept alive only with pockets of craftsmen scattered on the perimeters of the old Empire. During the Middle Ages in Occidental Society sandals were rarely worn but as shoes became more ornate then the wooden sandals were modified to overshoes or pattens.
The spread of evangelism led to the Christian Empire. First the disciples took the Word and preached it walking from town to town barefoot.
"I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Take neither purse nor pack, nor sandals." (Luke 10:1-16)
Priests occupied an important position in ancient societies and performed their offices, barefoot. However the hierarchy of the newly formed church indulged themselves in sumptuous dress. Then under "Sovereign's law," promulgated by Charlemagne (742-814 AD), clerics were required to wear sandals when celebrating mass. By the Middle Ages, priests and Franciscan monks wore wooden sandals in disregard to material luxury. During pilgrimages many went barefoot, or put a stone in their shoe to do penance for their sins. Clerics wore sandals they were simple and devoid of fashion and symbolism. They became an outward and visible sign of their inner humility and purity. According to early renaissance paintings the elite feet of the Vatican were encased in beautiful red shoes. High ecclesiastics distanced themselves from the common masses by conspicuous refinement and extravagant ornamentation.
India and the Orient
The archetypal footwear of the Indian subcontinent, were straw sandals. Trade between the early Western and Eastern civilizations was well established it is understood costume exchange took place along the Spice and Silk routes. Wooden sandals were worn throughout Middle East and India and are captured on sculptures, temples and in Sanskrit writing, (circa 3000 BCE). Readily available hardwearing wood may have been preferred by some religious sects e.g. Hindus and the earliest Indian footwear were wooden toe-knob sandals or Paduka. These were wooden boards cut roughly in the shape of a footprint (or fish as the symbol of fertility) with a stub (knob) to provide grip to the foot between the big and second toes. Paduka platforms stood on two narrow stilts thought to reflect the principle of non-violence practiced by Hindus and Jains and were worn by Indian sadhu (i.e. mendicants (beggars), holy men and gurus).
A Brahmin prayer.
"Forgive me Mother Earth the sin of injury, the violence I do, by placing my feet upon you this morning."
Finer toe knob sandals were made from fine teak, ebony and sandalwood. These were intricately inlaid with ivory or wire, and worn by the high born. More elaborate shoes, sometimes with bells, formed part of a bride's trousseau, and could also be given as religious votive offerings from the faithful.
"Guru Paduka Panchakam"
Salutations and Salutations to the sandals of my Guru,
Which is a boat, which helps me, cross the endless ocean of life,
Which endows me, with the sense of devotion to my Guru,
And by worship of which, I attain the dominion of renunciation.
Adi Shankaracharya (788 CE - 820 CE)
After the conquest of India by the Muslims in the 11c, Indians started wearing babouche (slipper) with turned up toes.
An eighteenth century sandal made of "wood with bed of sharp iron spikes" was used in religious ritual. It is inferred that it was meant to be used to inflict pain to the wearer to demonstrate his conviction in religious forbearance of pain.
In the Far East, i.e. Chinese, Japanese (Waraji rice straw) and early Korean traditional sandals (or Jipsin), sandals were made of woven rice straw and worn by peasants for at least two millennium. The sole of the Waraji was woven and tied according to status. Nakagukuri was an extra tie across the instep and used to secure the sandal to the foot for hikes and marches. It was common to carry an extra pair of sandals at the waist. The Chinese embellished their straw sandals with knotting. Korean straw sandals (Jipsin) were fairly crude but functional. It is still Korean tradition to wear Jipsin to a formal funeral as a symbol of respect. In Japan, Waraji were also worn by the samurai class and foot soldiers (ashigaru) during the feudal era of Japan (between the 12th and 19th centuries). As more materials became available Waraji became Zori or flat bottomed sandals made of straw and leather thongs and held between the first and second toes. These are also known as Tatami Sandals. These were widely used in Japan from at least the Heian period (794-1185) although there is no history beyond this to indicate whether these were indigenous or imported to Japan. Double-soled Zori came to symbolize matrimonial harmony and were often given as an engagement gifts from future groom to his bride. The two-layered soles a symbolic of the impending union. Superstitious Japanese people left their straw sandals as an offering and pray for safety before starting a long journey.
The Japanese later wore getas i.e. wooden platform sandal (traditionally made of cryptomeria) held to the feet with a flexible thong (sometimes rope or a black velveteen fabric) and with a woven tatami insole for extra comfort. Getas are worn barefoot whereas Zori and Tatami sandals are worn with tabi i.e. white cotton foot covering (like socks) with a split toe, between the big toe and the other four toes for the sandal thong. Tabi were the only foot coverings traditionally permitted on the tatami mat-covered floors inside Japanese houses.
Geta first became fashionable in the bustling urban centres of the Edo period (1603-1867). When geta production became industrialized in the Meiji period (1868-1912) they become more economically accessible to everyone. Lacquer was used to decorative them.
Other parts of the Far East wore variations on the wooden thong and these are considered unique to these regions. In Singapore the thong attachment is a strap across the top of the foot which follows the metatarsal heads. This is known as the Singapore Slide and the design later became incorporated into the Scholl Exercise Sandal. In the Philippines the wooden platform was decorated with intricate and ornate carvings. The US troops posted to the Pacific took wooden thongs home the as souvenirs and many believe this was why sandals became popular in the US after the war.
Espadrilles and South American Flip Flops
From Antiquity espadrilles (or rope soled sandals) continued to be worn in Southern France, Spain and Portugal. By the 15th century these were taken to South America and became integrated with ethnic footwear. In Brazil the Havaiana and in Columbia and Mexico Huaraches were made from woven leather. After 1844 and the invention of vulcanized rubber discovered by Charles Goodyear, rubber soled thongs began to appear. By the 1930s rubber soles made from old tires became popular. After the Second World War the new plastics industry was used to build up the Asian economies. The first industry to boom was the plastic footwear industry with mass-produced plastic sandals becoming a major export. By the fifties new molding techniques for rubber and plastic were introduced in Taiwan and elsewhere which allowed cheaper shoes to be turned out in their millions. Both espadrilles and huarache sandals gained popularity in the United States and were especially favoured by the bohemians and surfers. The introduction of the package tour to Mediterranean resorts in the 60s meant Europeans needed appropriate footwear and by the fifties the developing plastic industry took the simple thong design and mass produced them. Now every suitcase contained a pair of flip flops.
The couturisation of sandals
Sandals made a remarkable fashion comeback in the early 20th Century. The popularity of cinema ensured millions saw the new biblical epics from Hollywood. Directors like, Cecil B DeMille, were keen to have authentic costume and engaged shoe makers like Salvatore Ferrigamo to make sandals for the cast. Development of cinematography increased the focus on authentic costume but an absence of historical finds meant designs were based on Victorian theatrical costume. More and more leading actresses wanted to wear their ‘biblical sandals’ off set and their fans were keen to be seen in the same trendy sandals particularly since hemlines rose and foot attire became critical. Once established as a celebrity fashion designer Ferragamo introduced the wedge heel in the 30s and metal arch supports to allow heeled shoes to be made without toe caps. The Peekaboo style (or toe cleavage) was all the rage with the introduction of colourful nail varnish. Heeled sandals were synonymous with the new pin up girls. Wartime shortages saw designers experiment with non-traditional materials coming up with many innovations including cork wedges and bikini sandals with plastic thongs. By the early fifties, the introduction of the stiletto meant no fashion conscious female foot could go without a pair of back less sandals exposing more foot flesh than had ever been seen. Thongs became the string bikini of the shoe world.
The Aussie Thong and New Zealand Jandal
Today many considered sandals (thongs) to be an Australian icon but thongs were not worn by indigenous Australians nor were they issued to prisoners of her Majesty . They were totally unsuited to the Bush and Goldfields, and unlikely to be attractive to the barefoot culture which prevailed in the early settlers.
So where did they come from?
The 1956, the Melbourne Olympics were the first to be televised and the global village caught sight of the Japanese swimmers wearing getas (traditional sandals). A Hong Kong based shoe manufacturer, John Cowie took advantage of the new plastic industry and started to mass produce plastic thongs. New Zealander, Maurice Yock in turn took them to New Zealand and patented rubber thongs calling them Jandals (a combination of Japan and Sandal) in 1957. Plastic sandals were mass produced cheaply in Japan and became a stable post war manufacturing industry especially when they started selling all over the world. New Zealand sales rocketed and soon Australians wanted to wear the casual sandals they thought they had seen on the Melbourne Olympics. Other parts of the Far East wore variations on the thong type of sandal and these are considered unique to these regions. In Singapore the thong attachment is a strap across the top of the foot which follows the metatarsal heads. This is known as the Singapore Slide and the design later became incorporated into the Scholl Exercise Sandal. In the Philippines the wooden platform was decorated with intricate and ornate carvings. The US troops posted to the Pacific eagerly took home the carved platform sandals as souvenirs and many believe this was why sandals became popular in the US after the war.
,br> By the mid to late 50s in UK and Western Europe the new plastic flip flops from the east were a must for all package holiday tourists visiting the sun kissed beaches of the Mediterranean. In the 60s cheap shoes found popularity among many low social economical demographics including populations previously used to wearing straw espadrilles. In South America the plastic pluggers were called Havaianas (pronounced ha-vie-yon-ahs) or flip-flops. In recent years the humble flip flop has become staple fair for the elegant fashionista. The normal construction of the plastic thong usually has the thong attachment riveted to the plastic base. This is called a 'single plugger' thong. Due to an apparent fault in the production line a double rivet was made and the thongs were christened "double pluggers." To the best of my knowledge out of all thong wearers across the globe it is only Australia the Double Plugger holds sartorial sway.
A clever shoe retailer captured the moment by selling similar sandals and the humble single/double plugger became an Australian icon.
Footnote: What have Terrorism, Vegetarianism & Global Warming got in common?
The fear of terrorism and need for greater security of a bludgeoning traveling public in the 21 century has necessitated removing shoes at security check points. No self respecting fashionista would want to divest their shoes in public when a casual slip on and slip off would do, hence casual footwear has become a fashion trend. Sales have blossomed fuelled by the heat wave many parts of the globe are now experiencing. New polymers which offer incredible comfort and support have been incorporated in the humble thong to place them as top gun in 21st century footwear. Jet setters can move effortlessly through security checks maintaining sartorial eloquence with their slip on and off trend setting footgear.