A Closer Look at Clogs

By Creative Director & Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack

We sat down with BSM Creative Director & Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack to ask her a couple of questions about clogs!

To begin, we asked Semmelhack why there is a common thread of wooden footwear in so many diverse cultures. She explained that 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.   And of course, the fact that wood is so widely available and thus an accessible material for making inexpensive footwear can’t be overlooked.

So if wood is such an accessible and affordable material for footwear, the next question becomes - why then weren’t clogs or other forms of wooden footwear more universally worn?  According to Semmelhack, necessity may be the mother of all inventions but cultural allegiances often trump what might appear to be common sense.  To illustrate this point, she points to the use of clogs 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.   When asked what might explain the difference, like a true historian, Semmelhack uses an old Protestant Irish toast from the 17th century to King William III to offer some insight.

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.

Semmelhack goes on to explain that 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 BSM collection has hundreds of 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.

Korean Namakshin, 1870-1910

Marken, Netherlands, late 19th century

Shoes with matching wooden clogs. England, 1735-1750

Lancashire clogs. England, 1920

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