Monday, January 27, 2014

Step into the Footwear of Royalty

By Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack

Some of the most sumptuous footwear in the Bata Shoe Collection comes with royal pedigree.  Whether made from delicate silk or embellished with gold and precious gems the extravagance of royal footwear proclaim the privileges of wealth and power.  

Associations between footwear and royalty are long standing.  One of the most famous ancient Egyptian artifacts, The Narmer Palette from around 3100 B.C.E, depicts a barefoot pharaoh slaying an enemy of Egypt while his sandal bearer waits in the background holding his royal footwear.  Sandal bearers in ancient Egypt were part of the royal retinue and often went on to achieve high status – a practice strikingly similar to the role played by the sandal bears for the Asantehenes today in Ghana.   The sandals depicted on the Narmer Palette, are in keeping with the fashions of the day, but it is more than likely that they also would have featured some details that set them apart as royal.  Later examples of royal Egyptian footwear show ample use of gold decoration, a feature shared by royal footwear around the world as the Nizam of Hyderabad’s mojari attest. Gold has been prized by the powerful for its rarity and for its ability to never tarnish and can often be found on royal footwear. Colour has also been used in royal dress another means of conveying status.  The rulers of Byzantium for example always wore red shoes to signify their position and the French King Louis XIV famously made the wearing of red heeled footwear a prerogative of court privilege.   Sometimes colour has been used by a monarch to signify something more personal.  Queen Victoria may have worn white silk shoes in 1840 but after the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert in 1861, she wore mourning black including black footwear for the rest of her life.   From head to toe, royals have traditionally dressed to impress.

Don't forget to visit our Facebook and Twitter page for a more in depth look at each of the royal shoes from this week's #bsmshoeoftheday!

Image 1 - These bejeweled mojari are said to have been worn by the Nizam of Hyderabad, Shikander Jah (early19th century)

Image 2 - This pair was worn by the Asantehene of Kumasi and features soles in the shape of human figures.Ghana, 1930s.

Image 3  - These royal shoes are believed to date to the last Burmese dynasty, the Konbang dynasty (1755-1885)

Image 4 - These shoes, worn by Queen Victoria, are virtually identical to the ones she wore to her wedding, also date from the year of her wedding - 1840.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Closer Look at Clogs

Last week the Bata Shoe Museum's social media shoe of the day (#bsmshoeoftheday) was focused on clogs, or footwear made in part or completely from wood. To wrap up the week, we asked Elizabeth Semmelhack, the BSM's senior curator, to look a little deeper at some of the questions about clogs.

With the abundance of trees all around the world, it isn’t surprising that wooden footwear can be found in many cultures.  Wood is durable, can be carved or hewn into sculptural shapes and is suitable for wear in wet conditions.  The ancient Romans wore a type of stilted wooden clog in their Roman baths which over the centuries evolved into the high qabâqib worn by women throughout the Middle East until the 20th century for the same purpose.  The Dutch clog, perhaps the most iconic of all wooden footwear, probably came into favour because of the very wet conditions in many parts of the Low Countries.   Another benefit of wood is that it is so widely available that it is the perfect material for making inexpensive footwear.

So the question becomes, why historically weren’t clogs or other forms of wooden footwear more universally worn?  Necessity may be the mother of all inventions but cultural allegiances often trump what might appear to be common sense.  This is beautifully illustrated when looking at clog use in the New World.  In North America, those areas settled by the English show very little clog use but in Nouvelle France clog-making quickly became an industry.   Why the difference?  An old Protestant Irish toast from the 17th century to King William III offers some insight. The toast starts:

Here's to the glorious, pious and immortal memory of the great and good King William III, Prince of Orange, who saved us from rogues and roguery, slaves and slavery, knaves and knavery, Popes and Popery, brass money and wooden shoes.

The wooden shoes refer to the Catholic French who King William III battled on numerous occasions and give us a clue as to just how powerful cultural associations can be in relation to forms of dress.
These meanings, however, are also fluid and change as cultures change. Today, the Bata Shoe Museum collection has hundreds of little child-sized “Lancashire clogs” from Northern England. “Lancashire clogs” became popular in parts of Northern England during the Industrial Revolution and miniature versions of these clogs seem to have been brought over by people immigrating to Canada as mementos of home.  Clearly wooden footwear, like all other aspects of dress, is more than simply utilitarian and carries with it cultural associations that has impacted its use and popularity around the world. 

Don't forget to visit the BSM's Facebook and Twitter page to see what the theme for the #bsmshoeoftheday will be this week! 

Korean Namakshin, 1870-1910

Marken, Netherlands, late 19th century

Shoes with matching wooden clogs. England, 1735-1750

Lancashire clogs. England, 1920