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.