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Did Medieval Europeans Suffer for the Sake of Fashion?

Updated May 16, 2024
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As fascinating as it would be to see what life was like hundreds of years ago, you probably wouldn't want to walk in the shoes of well-to-do Europeans in the 14th and 15th centuries. According to recent research, fashionistas back then were into really long, pointy shoes – and those shoes hurt, even to the point of causing permanent damage to their feet.

"The remains of shoes excavated in places like London and Cambridge suggest that by the late 14th century, almost every type of shoe was at least slightly pointed — a style common among both adults and children alike," said study coauthor Piers Mitchell of the University of Cambridge.

Archaeological evidence from four medieval Cambridge cemeteries indicates that bunions became much more prevalent among the wealthy at the time, likely exacerbated by wearing such constricting shoes. Even worse, the skeletal remains of older people with bunions were more likely to show evidence of broken bones that occurred from falls.

The trend in long shoes reached some shocking heights (or lengths), with one monk in 1394 citing shoes "half a yard in length, thus it was necessary for them to be tied to the shin with chains of silver before they could walk with them." In 1463, King Edward IV of England tried to address the problem, making it against the law for anyone below the rank of lord to wear shoes with points of 2 inches (5 cm) or more.

Shoe shockers:

  • Men were the first to wear heels, with aristocratic horse owners of the 10th century needing them to help their feet stay in the stirrups.

  • "Sneakers" got their name because the rubber soles were seen as a way to walk around without making noise.

  • According to one study, the average American woman owns 19 pairs of shoes.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
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