What is the purpose of shoes and how has the purpose changed?

Shoes are a part of us and there is a part of us in shoes. They might have one or more of the following purposes or they might not. From well worn cherished loved shoes well past their use by date to delicate million dollar shoe displays that will never be worn, there is a shoe for everyone. Here are some thoughts on the purpose of shoes;

  1. Functionality
    1. Cushioning
    2. Comfort
    3. Performance
    4. Stability
    5. Protection
      1. Trauma
      2. Medicinal
        • Hygienic (prevent spread)
        • Orthopaedic
  2. Symbolism
    1. Memorial
    2. Representative of belief or attitude eg. religion, rights
    3. Self Expression
  3. Psychosocial
    1. Status
    2. Branding
    3. Collecting

Throughout history, the purpose of footwear have changed by choice and by necessity depending on the current circumstances and influences of the designer.

In the 15th Century, Poulaines (aka Crakowes) were immensely popular characteristic of its long pointed toe which had multiple purposes and designs including fashion, battle, and status. The length of the toe piece was never more than 50% of the original foot unless used for horseback.

Source: Pinterest + Flicker.com, n.d

Chopines were designed in the sixteenth century for women to be tall and away from the incredible amount of dirt on the streets. The dress could then be kept away from the ground allowing for longer dresses however, they caused an unstable and inelegant gait.  Women who wore them usually were accompanied by a servant or attendant upon whom they could balance themselves. (History and Women 2010) In Venice, the chopine was worn by women of the nobility and courtesans.  The chopine became a symbolic reference to the cultural and social standing of the wearer; the higher the chopine, the higher the status of the wearer.

Source: Victorian and Albert Museum London 2017










Chopines continued to be fashionable over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with a focus on extravagance, opulence and status.  Louis XIV introduced the ‘red heel’ as a symbol of the aristocratic. (Choklat 2013).


Source: C. Duller April 2014















The second half of the nineteenth century was driven by the new upper middle class with a larger disposable income to spend on high society with notions of grandeur. It also marked the birth place of haute couture (Aki Choklat 2013). Fashion and footwear was now driven on a cyclical basis with Paris being at the forefront of design. With the introduction of cars and the increasing need for transportation led to the development of better roads and bigger cities. Consequently, it meant that less pragmatic shoes were more pragmatic. (The Gale Group, n.d)

The beginning of the twentieth century saw the adoption of rubber soled shoes and industrialisation making it more affordable for shoes in the household. Brands such as , Florsheim and Birkenstocks commenced production around this time. (M. Bellis, n.d)

Major players in the 20th century included Salvatore Ferragamo, Clarks, Converse, Andre Perugia, Bloch, R.M Williams, Dr Martens, Roger Viver, Herbert Levine, Adidas, Nike, Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, New Balance, Havianas, Valentino and many more. Each company or designer has developed their own style or their own niche to represent and communicated their purpose to their target market (Shoe Icons, n.d).

I would categorise the purpose of Jimmy Choo, Louboutin and the Manolo Blahnik’s in the pursuit of beauty and confidence. The demand for athlete performance and competition paved the way for brands such as nike, adidas, converse, new balance and puma. The demand for casual, beach and surf attire led to Birkenstocks and Haviana’s paving their own unique style. The demand for self expression and punk/rock culture changed the use of Dr Martens from a factory boot to a symbol of anti-establishment. The desire for classic professionalism and formal attire was filled by Florshiem and Clarks. Each of these designers and brands have been successful in creating a legacy because they have clearly defined and communicated their purpose. These  brands have managed to overcome many obstacles because they had a clear understanding and definition of who they were and who they are. (Feet and Footwear cultural encyclopedia)

One of my favourite designers of the 20th century is Salvatore Ferragamo, originally from Florence had moved to Boston and onto Hollywood in 1914 where he had found success initially opening a shop for repair and ‘made to measure’ shoes. This soon became prized items among celebrities of the day, leading to a long period of designing footwear for cinema. However, his thriving reputation as ‘Shoemaker to the Stars’ only partially satisfied him and he returned back to Florence in 1927. He began to fashion shoes in Florence for the wealthiest and most powerful women of the century, from the Maharani of Cooch Behar, to Eva Peron and Marilyn Monroe. His success was once again, short lived as he filed for bankruptcy in 1933 due to economic pressure. In 1942, Salvatore adapted his designs due to the shortage of leathers to more humble materials such as raffia and cork and continued to expand his company. Salvatore Ferragamo continues to be a successful brand today. (Feet and Footwear cultural Encyclopedia)

Salvatore, to me represents a true battler and a true believer in ones passion for shoes despite the numerous series of turbulent events. He did what he loved consistently, until he passed at age 62 in 1960. His footwear and designs were a representation of his heritage and Italian culture with passion, class, drive and an eye for detail.


History and Women; Blog post; ‘Chopines – Platform Heels Renaissance Style’ June 18, 2010, Viewed 22nd of February 2017, No known Author

Aki Choklat, 2013, Footwear Design, 1st ed, Lawrence King Publishing Ltd, United Kingdom

The Gale Group;  ‘Roads’ Dictionary of American History, n.d, Encyclopedia.com, Viewed 23rd of February 2017, Available from <http://www.encyclopedia.com/science-and-technology/technology/technology-terms-and-concepts/roads&gt;

Mary Bellis, Blog Post, ‘Inventors; Footwear and shoes’  The History of Shoes, n.d, Viewed 23rd of February 2017, <http://theinventors.org/library/inventors/blshoe.htm&gt;

Website; Shoe Icons; Centuries and Decades, n.d, No known Author, Available from  <http://eng.shoe-icons.com/resources/ages.htm&gt; Viewed 23rd of February 2017

Margo DeMello, Feet and footwear : a cultural encyclopedia, Book, 2009


Image 1:Venice (made),ca. 1600 (made), Artist/Maker, Unknown, Materials and Techniques, Punched kid leather and carved pine, Museum number, T.48&A-1914, Gallery location, In Storage. Available from <http://collections.vam.ac.uk/&gt; viewed 22nd of February 2017

Image 2: Sonja Cristi Leigh C. Duller, Blog Post  ‘Women in the Society’, 3rd April 2014, A Research Paper Presented to the English Resource Center, School of Multimedia Arts, Asia Pacific College, Magallanes, Makati; <http://dullersonja.blogspot.com.au/&gt; viewed 22nd of February 2017

Featured Image: Shoe Mural, Street art around Zappos Building in Reno, no known photographer  Joee 2014, viewed 27th of February 2017




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