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A Short History Of Shoes
For many generations, deep in the hearts of short men, has dwelt a wistful yearning and a burning desire to appear tall. This wish is a natural one, springing from an acute desire to escape the many handicaps, real and imaginary, which confront short men in their dealings with those taller than themselves. The feeling of inferiority that accompanies a short stature is hard to suppress. It has always been embarrassing and difficult for a short man to make a favorable impression on a woman taller than himself, and no less disconcerting to be in the company of tall men, who literally look down upon a little man. The surest way for the short man to appear taller is to stand on something, and the most effective method is a height-increasing shoe.
In days of old, short men did not hesitate to strut about in high heel shoes to bolster their egos, but today no man would essay that. Nor is it neccessary for height-increasing devices are secretly built into men's shoes now and among the foremost exponents of this type of shoe is a New Yorker, Joseph Burger. But Joseph Burger is not only a manufacturer of shoes, he is also an author (pen name Paul O'Neil, "Why Be Short") and a collector of rare shoes.
A highly prized pair of shoes in this collection is a pair of fifteenth century "Chopines." They are really a most fascinating pair of shoes which were worn by Italian nobility and are said to have been built purposely to permit the wearer to tower over the masses. They are very ornate, made of white pierced leather of a sandle-like quality and have two heels. Shoes of this type were also worn by lesser aristocrats in Italy about this time, especially during bad weather, but these shoes do not compare in quality and elegance with the "Chopinea" in Joseph Burger's collection, which he obtained directly from the descendants of a famous Italian family.
Not so long ago, in the time of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington, the men themselves had a hand in setting the style. The impetus for this venture of two such militant individuals into the field of design was due to the great importance of supplying the active armies of the day with proper shoes. Thus, both Napoleon and the Duke attended to the needs of their soldiers and designed footwear of comfort and convenience for them. These shoes, quite appropriately known as "Napoleons" and "Wellingtons," enjoyed a widespread but temporary popularity.
At about the same time, Field-Marshal Von Blucher of the Prussian army was also faced with the problem of designing more practical shoes for his soldiers, who complained of the difficulties experienced in pulling their boots on and off. The result was the "Blucher," a half boot with two flaps just below the ankle, for loosening the boot and making it easy to slip on and off quickly. When on the foot, the boot was fastened and made snug by tying the laces, which were drawn through a couple of ey elets in each flap. This shoe has enjoyed a much happier fate than the "Napoleons" and "Wellingtons" which have passed into oblivion, for today, many men are wearing a type of shoe still known as a "Blucher" which features the same flaps. The modern version, with its simple style of lacing, retains the same attraction of comfort and convenience.
Julius Caesar, that noble Roman, startled the populace of Rome by sporting a pair of fabulous shoes, the soles of which were almost pure spun gold! There is also ample evidence to uphold the belief that early day Romans favored shoes with soles of wood. Shoes of such construction were doubtless practical for keeping the feet dry during inclement weather and also gave one a helpful boost at times.
Another historic personality who had a decided influence in the design and adoption of a shoe was England's King Henry VIII. The shoes he designed were called "Dunderbludgeons" and were as cumbersome and unattractive as the name implies. Taking into account the King's gouty feet, they were an unlovely creation indeed, shovel-front in design and built very much like a pancake. The King's courtiers, and gradually most of the populace, copied the awkward shoe, even increasing the width of the shoe across the vamp so that some styles measured a good twelve inches in width.
Needless to say, this shoe was hardly conducive to graceful walking and people were constantly treading on one another's toes, which led to fist fights and even duels! Such is the influence oŁ Kings! A royal decree was finally handed down forbidding the common people from wearing this duck-bill footwear and specifying that footwear widths be decreased to more practical dimensions.
In the central part of Europe, in the seventeenth century, the women wore stout boots resembling those worn by the lusty buccaneers of that period, who prowled the seas bent on plunder. These Bohemian boots have an unusual shape and are made with a generous leather apron, which fits closely around the knee and extends down to the shoe proper, looking for a11 the world like a trouser leg. The boot has but four eyelets through which a strip of rawhide is pulled to fasten it. Equally as interesting is a pair of men's shoes of the same period, also made in Bohemia. This pair features stub toes, a low heel and has ankle protectors that look just like the fins of a fish.
The sovereign who is generally credited with properly launching the high heel shoe and making an enduring fashion of it was Louis XIV, whose exalted position in life demanded that he add some dignity to his five foot four inches. The heel he invented is still known as the Baby Louis heel and prevails today in women's shoes. Though discarded by men, a similar heel is still retained on the American cowboy's boot. It is a direct steal from the Mexican cowboy's boot, which in turn has been taken from the four inch heel boots worn by the Spanish gallants in the eighteenth century. And these were an outgrowth of the Louis XIV influence.
American shoes are well represented in Joseph Burger's varied collection and among them is a pair of early American baby shoes. Huge tacks, like those used by upholsterers, are hammered into the soles and give the shoes a unique and decorative appeal.
There is a pair of white, high heel shoes which were quite the thing in the roaring '20's. "Needletoes" they were called and only a "needle-toe" could have wriggled into the toes of those shoes, which were so pointed as to scareely, admit even a slim pencil. But they were "fashionable" and grandmother wore them along with her sisters, who suffered heroically, as women have always been wont to do, for the sake of "fashion."