Saturday, 27 September 2014

Step back in time

Some museums chronicle our history through collections of vases, paintings and sculptures.

But shoes?

Yes, proving there is a museum for everything, Toronto boasts the Bata Shoe Museum.

Initially I scoffed at the concept, imagining just a pile of shoes.   What could a museum about shoes possibly have to offer?

But with an hour or two to kill, I skeptically stepped inside and walked out converted.

Yes, there is a pile of shoes on the floor.  But also a lot more.

It seems we've been wearing shoes for some time.  At first out of necessity, but later for religious, ritualistic, occupational and fashionable reasons.

As the museum puts it:
The ability to walk upright profoundly impacted human development.  Today, as we stand on our own two feet contemplating the footprints made millions of years ago, we are reminded of our connection to our ancestors with each step that we take.

Flat and functional: Egyptian shoes dating back thousands of years
Go high for happiness:  Indian silver-covered paduka from 18th Century
What's the point:  painful looking Chinese shoes for bound feet
Fashion statement in the absence of clothes:  Turkish bath sandals  Matt's photos (complete with little bells around the edges) from 19th Century

Ready for battle: shoes for a suit of armour

Fancy: decorative Baroque and Rococo styles from 18th Century

Moon walk: an astronaut's boot

But it's not all a peek into history's shoe closet.   A selection of famous feet are also on display.

Famous feet 
More famous feet

The exhibit Fashion Victims is a stroll through Western footwear in the 19th Century, one of the most colourful and sometimes painful periods for footwear.

This was the time when shoes as fashion really took off, often in bizarre directions.

Shoes in the recently created mauve colour were all the rage in the 1850s, but critics said the colour was reminiscent of measles

"Straights": a painful design that presented perfectly symmetrical feet and with no difference between the left and right foot

Gaudy hues were the height of 1860s fashion, but could result in chemical burns from the dyes used
A fine balance: the re-emergence of the heel in 1850s came at the same time that as the beginning of the women's rights movement

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