Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Adorning the Feet

At the Bata Shoe Museum, as an international centre of footwear research, we house more than just shoes in our collection. Many societies have found other ways to adorn and decorate the foot as a part of traditional culture. An example of this can be seen in our large collection of Indian foot and ankle jewellery.

In the West, sandals were worn by both men and women in the Classical Age, but they fell from favour at the advent of the Middle Ages. For centuries feet remained concealed in shoes and were only revealed when sandals came back into fashion in the 20th century. In many other parts of the world, however, the foot was not so sequestered from view but rather was pampered and even ornamented. In India, women of the upper classes traditionally devoted a great deal of time to the care of their feet. Feet were bathed, massaged with scented oils and the soles were often dyed with red lac or henna. Ankle bracelets and toe rings added the final touches to these pampered feet.

Foot scrubbers, Rajashtan, 19th century (Photo: John Bigelow Taylor)

Footscrubbers were traditionally an important part of an Indian woman's toilette. The base of the bronze scrubbers are typically cast with a rough surface for rubbing the skin while the handles are sculpted to incorporate motifs such as birds, animals and scenes from everyday life.

Ankle Bracelets, India, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, c. 1900 (Photo: John Bigelow Taylor)

Although women throughout India traditionally wore ankle bracelets, there is a wide range in variations in design. This silver pair (above) features brightly coloured enamel work. Enamel was used extensively in Indian jewellery making to enhance the brilliance and lustre of a woman's embellishment.

Fish toe ring, India, Orissa, Oriyan, 20th century

Toe rings were another favoured foot ornament in traditional Indian culture. The silver fish on the toe ring, which is a sign of fertility and abundance in India, would have seemed to swim with every step the wearer took!

For more information and images relating to traditional Indian footwear and foot adornments visit the exhibit "Paduka: Feet and Footwear in the Indian Tradition" in our virtual museum All About Shoes.


  1. Interesting post. Am curious about the weight of the fish toe ring though!

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