Buckle Me Up – The Evolution of the Shoe

Your feet do a lot of work. Arguably, more so than any other part of your body. For such a small percentage of the human anatomy, and with such intricate structure and movement, they really do need looking after. The evolution of the shoe has largely come around as a need to improve safety for the foot.

Going back as far as the Stone Age, archaeologists and historians have documented primitive footwear.  In the colder, northern hemisphere, thick leather made the uppers and soles of the shoes which were packed with hay or fur for warmth. In the warmer southern hemisphere, palm leaves or papyrus fibre made the soles of primitive sandals, keeping feet cool, but protected from the terrain.


From Sandal to Statement

The sandal was perhaps the first revolution in footwear. Dating from times of Antiquity, the ancient civilisations used rope or leather straps to fix the soles in place.  For the Egyptians and Greeks, soles were made with papyrus, stiff leather or even wood.

Into the Middle Ages and shoes became a commodity. The first heels started appearing in the designs for comfort, and longevity of the sole. The peasants and townsmen were often kitted out with leather boots, built to last and handed down through families or even shared. Boots were made to be practical and durable.

For the noblemen and women, shoes had become more of a fashion statement. With wooden heels and intricate designs appearing on the leather uppers, shoemakers would often personalise the shoes for their clients. Around this time, men and women’s shoes were largely the same style and design regardless of gender.


New Materials and Techniques

Early modern times saw more styles of shoe designed. Fashion became more important, in particular for the men. As women’s shoes remained largely under their long dresses, the aesthetics were much less regarded. During the renaissance period, shoes began to take forms that would be recognised today. With duck billed shoes, high heels and ankle boots all first appearing during this time.

With the industrial revolution, came mass production. In the mid-nineteenth century, Dutch born inventor, Jan Ernst Matzeliger, came up with a shoe making method capable of turning out 700 pairs of shoes a day. Around this time, shoes for the left and right foot became different shapes and laces started to rise in popularity.

At the turn of the twentieth century, new discoveries in rubber manufacturing and lightweight fabrics led to the first sports shoes. More and more materials became available in large quantities and shoes were owned in number, by many. With shoes for school, sports, work and leisure, owning more than one pair was no longer uncommon.

Clarks were already well established by this point and have contributed much to the world of shoemaking. We continue to push boundaries, fashions and quality – for our latest innovations follow this link. We have stores all over the world, you can buy shoes online, on the high street, or from dedicated superstores.

Click here to read more on the history of Clarks Shoes.