Origins of the Heel

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#126 Post by das » Sun May 08, 2011 3:00 am

Chuck,

No need to speculate there, you hit on one of the early proto-heels, Olaf Goubitz nick-named it the "patch heel". Late Medieval heel-less European turnshoes had the heel-end patched when worn through, (by cobblers) by adding a layer back there. By c.1580 shoemakers (as distinct from cobblers) first began putting the "patch" on brand new shoes in anticipation of wear, and voila, a low one or two lift stacked heel was born. BTW, earliest examples I know of are men's, not women's, from a ship wreck.

And you're right again, the poor are not highly represented in art, but their shoes survive archaeologically better than most of the fancy stuff to tell the tale.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#127 Post by chuck_deats » Sun May 08, 2011 8:51 am

Thanks for the confirmation. Guess I am suprised at the relatively late date for heels (c.1580). Would have expected patch heels in the Roman era or earlier. What is the wear pattern on a shoe without heels? Do they wear more equally at the ball and heel, so no need for a heel? Know archaeological evidence is hard to find.
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Re: Origins of the Heel

#128 Post by das » Mon May 09, 2011 5:23 am

Chuck,

Roman(?) through Medieval turnshoes were occasionally repaired by removing just the worn section of the single sole, and grafting-on a new single layer piece--very tedious/labor-intensive. Some lazy Dutch cobbler, or accepting customer, got the idea of just clumped-on a new layer right over the worn bit to make it double-thick, and voila "patch heels" were born (Goubitz notes them "first" on Dutch shipwrecks c.1580). The archaeological record has its "bias"-- a) what gets found/dug-up, and b) what happens to survive recovery and conservation to get recognized by some researcher with the "right" eye for recognizing shoe parts, constructions, wear patterns, etc. Safe to say, a lot of dug stuff never sees the light of day or gets analyzed properly--we're dealing here with a few surviving fragments of long-dead peoples' trash. And, while "archaeology is revealed truth--the rest is just interpretation", like minute clues at a crime scene, it's forensics we have to (cautiously) go by.

You raised an interesting point there, gait before heels. June Swan gave an interesting talk on this several years' back, showing images that tend to suggest that Medieval Europeans (elites who got painted anyway) indeed walked in a stylized flat-footed, or toe-walk fashion, and did not heel-strike first like we do. The Medieval shoes' wear patterns, however, should tell the tale better for "everyman", and you best pose that question to Marc Carleson or the others here who've studied Medieval shoes.

If you look at: 'Medieval Footwear from Coventry', Susan Thomas (1980), 'Stepping Through Time', Olaf Goubitz (2001), or 'Shoes and Pattens', Grew & de Neergaard (1988), you should have plenty of worn soles to consider re repairs/gait. Leafing through them just now, I can't say I saw an inordinate number blown-out at the heel-end moreso than the forepart, but I was just thumbing through....

At the rate archaeological leather turns up, it's not so much that it's hard to find--it's just hard to insure savvy analysis world-wide, interpretation, standardized cataloguing, and publication of what does get found Image

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#129 Post by marc » Mon May 09, 2011 6:27 am

I can tell you from experience with walking in medieval style shoes that the most effective gait is the same one you use walking barefooted. That is, to place the heel on the ground (not stomping it as with modern heels), the weight shifting to the front joints then pushing off. Most of the energy is used at the front of the foot. The wear patterns in the archeology don't to me, contradict this.

The only time you spend most of your time on the toes is in combat, and even then your heel should be resting on the ground unless you are stepping. Honest, it's in the pictures.

Interestingly, in a lot of the artwork from the "High Middle Ages", the shape of the foot as depicted more closely resembles the shape of the lasts than it does anything else. This may be the source of the toe-first interpretation.

For example, the last reproduced in http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/shoe2/proj1,jpg based on some from Goubitz, has a round heel seat, cut in waist, and an accentuated toe spring. Now look at http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/shoe/research/shoemaker/images/manr esa.jpg the shoes on the counter reflecting the shape of the shoes on the feet. Compare this to this image from the Morgan Bible (aka the Maciejowski Bible) http://en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Morgan_Bible_10r.jpg. Look at the feet. If you examine more artwork, you will see this shape repeated between 1200 and 1450 (roughly speaking).

Marc

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#130 Post by chuck_deats » Mon May 09, 2011 8:47 am

Al, Marc,
Thank you for the expert, intelligent discussion. Not often amateur speculation gets such a scholarly reply.

My only basis for wear is modern moccasins which seem to wear out at the ball about as fast as the heel. Also would expect somewhat different wear on dirt as opposed to pavement.

Don’t have the books, but the web-sites are interesting. Marc, I have trouble getting to your Tulsa sites directly. Maybe it is just me, but appreciate what you have done
Chuck

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#131 Post by das » Mon May 09, 2011 12:23 pm

Chuck,

I'm always glad to field history stuff here, though it feels like the lonely Maytag repairman sometimes Image

Glad to have been helpful. You can probably get all those book through your local public library if you're into it.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#132 Post by fclasse » Tue May 10, 2011 4:47 pm

Marc,

I was hoping someone would comment about their experience walking in flat medieval shoes - I find exactly the same thing, that I tend to walk a great deal more "evenly," if that makes sense, with the weight much more distributed between the ball of the foot and the heel, compared to heel-toe as in modern shoes.

D.A.,

The analogy is only apt to a point - here, people are more interested to solicit and hear your opinions and advice!


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Re: Origins of the Heel

#133 Post by last_maker » Tue May 10, 2011 7:06 pm

In the spirit of discussion here, I found this site.
http://www.fugawee.com/men's%20colonial.htm

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#134 Post by dw » Tue May 10, 2011 7:48 pm

Marlietta..

here

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#135 Post by last_maker » Tue May 10, 2011 11:24 pm

opps did I cut off some of the link? sorry, thanks for the correction.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#136 Post by amuckart » Wed May 11, 2011 2:21 am

For some reason one of Marc's links didn't work. There's actually upper-case bits in the path. For posterity, the link to the picture from the Life of St Mark is:
http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/shoe/RESEARCH/SHOEMAKER/IMAGES/manr esa.jpg (I don't know why there's a space in 'manresa' in the output, it's not in my input and isn't in the URL.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#137 Post by amuckart » Wed May 11, 2011 2:35 am

I agree with Marc's assessment of walking in medieval style shoes, though personally I tend to walk somewhat toe-first, which is also how I walk around the house in socks. Of note is the fact that my stride length is far shorter in bare feet or medieval shoes than in modern shoes.

My current favourite pair of medieval style shoes were made with modern veg tanned 2-2.5mm thick cow shoulder, with ~4mm thick soles. They show a light wear pattern corresponding to my footprint with the heaviest wear under the 2nd and 3rd metatarsal heads. That's where the sole is going to wear through first.

The next heaviest point of wear is under the heel. There is light wear over the rest of the footprint. The lightest wear is under the lateral arch and there is zero wear on the sole under the medial arch and between the second and third toes and the ball of my foot.

Of the worn out medieval style shoes I've seen, the majority hole out under the ball of the foot before they go at the heel. When they go at the heel first they tend to show wear on the upper near the lasting margin at the heel, presumably as a result of a very heel-first strike and a long gait such as modern padded/heeled footwear promotes.

Something that's seen in some narrow-waisted high medieval shoes is that the sole is made in two parts with a seam at the waist. Grew & de Neergard theorise that this is for ease of repair of only part of the sole, but make no mention of any evidence of shoes where the two parts are clearly mismatched. Personally I think it's equally likely to be the result of economic cutting of the sole leather.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#138 Post by das » Wed May 11, 2011 3:10 am

Do not seek your history there, for goodness sakes.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#139 Post by amuckart » Wed May 11, 2011 3:33 am

That link of Marlietta's is interesting. I disagree with what it has to say about renaissance shoes though.
"High-heeled shoes are mentioned as early as 1533 but they reached ordinary fops in the 1590's when they swept into Venice and Florence. This brought out a whole new set of problems. The shank in the arch of the shoe had to be strong and stiff enough to keep the shoe from collapsing forward and the sides of the shoe had to be molded so that the foot would not slide down into the toe area. The complexities and cost of carving compound curves into the last (the form that the shoe is molded over) and then making a mirror image for the other foot limited such shoes to the very rich."

Francis Classe knows a lot more about built-up soles in this period than I do, but absent any bibliographic information, I think the concepts of "high heeled" shoes in the 1530s, and the idea that they started in Italy both need to be taken with a house-sized grain of salt.

I think the idea that western European heels started out as repair patches which turned into pre-emptive patches is the most likely explanation we've got, but I think the late 16th century is a bit late. There were recognisable stacked heels in Dutch finds by the 1580s, but I think there were several decades of working up to that point beforehand.

Dr Reiner Atzbach documented a collection of shoes from Kempten in Germany dating from c.1450-1500[1]. The c.1500 shoes are still turnshoes at this point but are quite built-up and recognisable as a style that exists in the early 16th century as right-side out welted shoes. He says regarding repair patches at the heel:
"Often there is no hole visible in the sole, but nevertheless a patch was sewn on. If one patch is worn out, it is usually not replaced, but reinforced with a second or third one. Perhaps such kind of sole doubling with patches could be a forerunner to the developed heel, which does not occur before the late 16th century."

As far as I'm aware - and this is not something I've yet researched thoroughly - the development of pre-emptive repair patches, outsoles sewn to the welt of a turned shoe, and then non-turned welted shoes is most likely related to the re-emergence of paved streets in towns in the late 15th/early 16th centuries.

Something to note, for people who haven't studied medieval and renaissance footwear is that the decades from about 1480-1530 saw more technological change in the manufacture of footwear than had happened in about the previous four or five centuries. From Anglo-Saxon times until the late 15th century the fundamental construction of shoes went almost unchanged. Heel patches added at manufacturing time appear sometime between 1480 and 1500 (Marc, Al, please correct me if I'm wrong about that) and by the second quarter of the 16th century in Germany we have recognisably modern welted double-sole construction happening.

Walking on wooden pattens on stone cobbles is both precariously slippery and very noisy. They're great for natural surfaces, but not so good on stone. This could well be why the 16th century sees the role of the medieval wooden patten largely replaced by leather soled mules.
  1. Atzbach, Rainer: Medieval and Postmedieval Turnshoes from Kempten (Allgäu), Germany.
    New aspects of shoemaker technique at about 1500

    postprinted paper in: Ivan Planka (ed.), Shoes in History 2000. The Collection of Lectures of the 3rd International Conference (Zlin 2001) pp. 184-196.
    http://classic-web.archive.org/web/20060130094958/http://web.uni-bamberg.de/~ba5 am1/info/shoes.htm

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#140 Post by das » Wed May 11, 2011 4:54 am

Alisdair,

Great follow-on! You Medieval guys.... Image

In that very chaotic fashion era, roughly 1580-1650, there are three distinct "first" heel types across Europe (inc. Italy but hardly limited to it):

1) low, stacked leather "patch" proto-heels on top of the sole (whence common heels)
2) low to medium stacked wedge "spring" heels placed under the sole (come and go, but mostly dead-end on family tree)
3) medium to high covered wood heels, under the sole, held on by heel cover construction (whence women's covered heels)

And then the mysterious Polish or "Polony" heel, referred to as high, and by late 1600s described (Holme: 1688) as men's, stacked leather and pegged. Some tapered, octagonal in cross-section, and up to 3"+ high survive!

With the exception of #1, the proto "patch" heels associated with men's footwear in the beginning, #2 and #3 were unisex--worn by both men an women at first. Over time the covered heel becomes female fashion. The high stacked leather ("Polony"?) heel becomes male fashion. So in the end we have covered wood, shaped heels=women, and stacked leather=men. That said, some men's shoes carried chunky covered wood heels too, but stacked leather became increasingly "normal" after c.1740-1750 concurrent with lowering heel heights for men.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#141 Post by fclasse » Wed May 11, 2011 10:22 am

Not to beat up on Marlietta's link any more, but I suspect this is just another web-propagated apocryphal reference of how Catherine de Medici allegedly "invented high heels" and wore them in 1533 at her wedding to Henri II to become the queen of France. We have no documentation for this, and how it got into the mainstream web I have no idea - I've spoken to a couple of scholars on the topic, and all have agreed that this statement does not seem to be founded on any evidence that they are aware of.

Of course, this might have all originated when a journalist misunderstood a scholarly source who explained to her that some shoes had a corked sole which often were thicker at the heel than the sole. Said source may have said that they were like "Renaissance High Heels," to simplify for the journalist, and too much was read into it. Raised chopines and platform shoes certainly existed in the early 16th C, and the confusion between "high heel" and "platform heel" may be the culprit. Irrespective, I still cannot document that Catherine wore any kind of raised heel at her wedding. There is a lot written about her and the history of the Medici family, but I haven't gone out on a limb to dig through it to validate this reference. Perhaps I should at some point. =)


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Re: Origins of the Heel

#142 Post by last_maker » Wed May 11, 2011 10:08 pm

Well I am not much of a history buff,and i know many of you know much more about shoe history than I, but I like how different people come to conclusions about historical events, people and socieities. I simply happend to stumble upon the site while reading the current post.

I do happend to know that during the era of striaght lasts, right and lefts were referred to as "crooked" lasts. According to a book I have on archological scandinavian shoes apprenetly rights and lefts were made in defferent societies through out history. But to differientiate striaghts from rights and lefts they simply said striaght last or crooked. The intent was not to imply that the shoes were actually crooked,it was to discribe how the toe boxes swing into each other like your feet do when you look down upon them. I am not refering to a meyers last here, I am simply saying that how we see shoes today and how you can tell when you have the wrong shoe on the wrong foot. So that is what I am speaking of here.rights and lefts were refered to as "crooked" lasts and upon crooked lasts came "crooked" shoes.

Just a thought

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#143 Post by das » Thu May 12, 2011 3:52 am

Mariletta,

The saga of "straight" lasts could fill a volume on its own. Suffice it to say, like heel-history, there's more misinformation in print and on the web than au currant research. Regarding any of it, it's difficult to make broad sweeping generalizations that hold water for every culture, region, and age--no simple answers.

Except for a few 1st-3rdc. Coptic examples, I'm not away of any "straight" (lasted) footwear (both shoes made on the same symmetrical lasts) until c.1580-1600, concurrent with the introduction of heels. "Straight" lasts became a popular solution to a fundamental economic problem--after heels come in, lasts were now needed in no-heel (still), low-heel, medium-heel, and high-heel curvatures. If they stayed with pairs of L&R lasts, as were used to "forever", the multiplicity of lasts would have become enormous. One symmetrical last could serve for making both shoes, thus reducing by at least half the number of lasts needed!

Going by archaeological examples again, even after the introduction of "straight" lasts c.1600, the shoe uppers and their fastening methods remained distinctively L & R until the very late 1600s, and well into the 1700s in some cases. IOW, the "straight" last resulted in a symmetrical sole shape when brand new, but after a little wear the shoes became R & L in wear.

By 1767 (see Garsault) there was a fad amongst some Europeans to preserve the symmetry of the sole shape by switching shoes (NB--only feasible with symmetrical uppers/fastenings which were not universal), which was decried as ruining the shoes, and miserable on the toes (which is easy to see). Other contemporary authors (i.e. Peter Camper: 1781) dismissed this as nonsense, as apparently the Dutch "peasants" never wore "straight" footwear all along. I know you didn't raise the whole rotating-shoes-like-car-tires to make them last longer hoary chestnut, but it is popular too, beware. If one had to go to court and prove, with either archaeological or written proof, for swapping shoes 1600-1800, they'd be hard pressed to find any. Only occasional local hints, like Garsault et al.

During the hey-day of "straight" lasts I've never found them called "straights"--they were just called "lasts", because that was the only shape known/remembered. The first mention of "crooked" per se lasts and their superiority was, in Rees (1813), after R & L lasts were revived as "the latest European fashion" in the 1790s. From there things get muddied.

"Straight" lasts were cheap to make, and it was simpler (cheaper) to make straight uppers patterns than R & L uppers, so "straights" continued for the cheapest footwear, especially factory production, right though the 1920s. Right and left shaped lasts, cost more, but fit neater, and tended to be used for better grades of footwear from c.1800 onward (to today sort of).

It's 1819, enter Mr. Blanchard, who patented his lathe for turning shoe lasts "and other irregular shapes in wood"--his patent papers and patent model show a shoe-last-turning lathe--not gunstocks as popularly claimed. The first commercial buyer for his new gizmo was; however, the U.S. g'ment, and the lathe was only then modified to turn gunstocks. The weakness in Blanchard's lathe was that it did not adjust to grade from one size model to other sizes. In 18(57?) (Mr._____?) patented the pantograph attachment for Blanchard's lathe, for grading, and only then do machine-turned R & L shoe lasts take off in huge quantities in the U.S., Europe following. Again the U.S. military were the protagonists--the U.S. Army STOPPED accepting straight-lasted footwear from contractors in 1851, necessitating the sudden (huge) need for R & L lasts cheap. Similarly, in 1861, at the outbreak of our Civil War, MacKay, who previously could not get any buyers/backing for his chain-stitch sole-stitcher, got the Army to reluctantly accept MacKay sewing (as the least desirable construction BTW), and voila his machine went into production.

Anyway, I know I wandered off topic here, but too much caffeine this a.m. Image

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#144 Post by dmcharg » Sat Aug 27, 2016 5:47 am

With the discussion on the dating of heels (coming in circa mid 1500's) I was wondering what people make of this example, in the form of a terracotta perfume bottle. It's a platform sole, but with a definite arch to heel shape. It's from the First Century BC. Thoughts. You can click on the photo and then zoom in 'crazy big' :)

http://metmuseum.org/art/collection/sea ... p=20&pos=7

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#145 Post by das » Sat Sep 03, 2016 6:58 am

Duncan,

There are a number of these terracotta Cothurnus-form miniature flasks, vials, and toys from 1-2c BCE. Google Cothurne/Cothurnus. The one in these two photos if from a child's grave in Egypt, 1st century BC. At first glance June Swann and I assumed it must have been an intrusive item, a toy in the style of a mid-17thc "close shoe". But further investigation turned up another, strikingly similar (about halfway down) in this 1877 article on Cothurnus: http://www.mediterranees.net/civilisati ... urnus.html

The Petrie Museum flask has straight sole, which also seemed to suggest a 17th date again. But according to this 1890 ref. some Greek Cothurnes had straight soles = "worn on either foot, hence their nickname _______". : http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/tex ... thurnus-cn

And another w/ "heel"-- http://www.lotprive.com/fr/achat/archeo ... rne-117965

Clearly these things are cothurne-shaped toys, vials, etc. And as cothurne has thick soles of cork (not leather, not worn off stage), they were merely theatrical prop stilt-like footwear, I think they are a "dead end" in our quest for first true heels.

Be careful, June warns there're are a lot of different nationalities of archaeologists and museum assistants of varying expertise trying to describe/catalogue these ancient artifacts, none of whom are usually shoe-history folks familiar with footwear, so a lot of creative speculation gets into it sadly.
1stC.RminiaS1sole2PetriMus.JPG
1stC.RminiaS.PetriMus.JPG

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#146 Post by dmcharg » Thu Sep 08, 2016 2:01 am

Thanks for that, Al.
Cheers

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