Fashion beyond form is not new, particularly for footwear
June 16, 2019 10:21 PM   Subscribe

English sumptuary laws (Wikipedia) started off with regulations on work attire, then a proclamation against 'outrageous consumption of meats and fine dishes' by nobles, in 1281 and 1309, respectively (Lords and Ladies.org). Next came the regulation of pointy shoes. Why Were Medieval Europeans So Obsessed With Long, Pointy Shoes? (Atlas Obscura) Want more? Check out The history of sumptuary law and shoes, a blog in which "the author attempts to describe a brief history of sumptuary laws and relate this to how legislation of the Middle Ages may have influenced the design and style of today’s shoes," though the latest post looks at early Christian times, and other cultures around the world.
posted by filthy light thief (20 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
My favorite sumptuary law bit of trivia is that the murex dye used to make Tyrian purple smells really awful. It has a strong odor of rotting fish that lasts as long as the color. Smelly is the head that wears the crown.
posted by peeedro at 11:09 PM on June 16 [20 favorites]


Fashion really does run in cycles, sometimes really long ones.
posted by TedW at 1:23 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


> "Rebecca Shawcross, the author of Shoes: An Illustrated History ... also serves as the shoe resources officer at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in England"

I feel like someone is very happy with her life choices.
posted by kyrademon at 2:18 AM on June 17 [12 favorites]


Fashion really does run in cycles, sometimes really long ones.
I think of them as Leningrad boots.
posted by MtDewd at 3:13 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


Winklepickers are a bit more modest.
posted by pracowity at 3:37 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


A couple of quotes from A Distant Mirror:
Knights and courtiers had adopted a fashion of excessively long pointed shoes called poulaines - which often had to be tied up around the calf to enable the wearer to walk - and excessively short tunics which, according to one chronicler's complaint, revealed the buttocks and "other parts of the body that should be hidden," exciting the mockery of the common people...
Because the Duke was examining himself, a 14th century grand seigneur emerges as a real person who admires the elegance of his long pointed toes in the stirrup...
The knights dismounted, removed spurs, cut off the long pointed toes of their poulaines, and shortened their lances to five feet...
Even when stuffed at the toe to make them curl up or tied at the knee with chains of gold and silver, the poulaines produced a mincing walk that excited ridicule and charges of decadence. Yet the upper class remained wedded to this particular frivolity, which grew ever more elegant, made sometimes of velvet sewn with pearls or gold-stamped leather or worn with a different color on each foot.
posted by clawsoon at 4:58 AM on June 17 [12 favorites]


I like the notion in the article that fad for poulaines could have been something to do with coming to terms with the death toll of the Black Death. "Sure - 25 million people may have died - but not me - and look at my fucking pointy shoes!" - these days men's fashion is much more sophisticated of course.
posted by rongorongo at 5:34 AM on June 17 [7 favorites]


That was amazing
posted by latkes at 6:48 AM on June 17


Parliament equated wearing the shoes to public indecency, and stepped forward to put limits on a variety of racy fashions: “No person under the estate of lord, including knights, esquires, and gentlemen, to wear any gown, jacket, or coat which does not cover the genitals and buttocks. Also not to wear any shoes or boots with pikes longer than two inches. No tailor to make such a short garment, or stuffed doublet, and no shoemaker to make such pikes,” the 1463 law reads.
Shorter Parliament: Tights Aren't Pants. But it didn't seem to help; stuffed codpieces apparently were a thing for another century or so after that law.
posted by fedward at 8:20 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


peeedro: My favorite sumptuary law bit of trivia is that the murex dye used to make Tyrian purple smells really awful.

Everything having to do with tanning and dyeing smelled awful even for ancient and medieval standards, that's why they had to do it downwind and downriver. Tanning used dog shit for removing the skin from the leather and dyeing used fermented urine as a mordant, to set the dye.
posted by sukeban at 9:39 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


And of course, since fashion is cyclical, poulaines are back in the form of botas picudas.
posted by sukeban at 9:43 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


Tanning used dog shit for removing the skin from the leather and dyeing used fermented urine as a mordant, to set the dye.

How do you even discover that stuff like this works? Like "damnit the dog crapped on this cow skin- wow wait a second!"?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:45 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]


"whoops, spilled my fermenting piss on this newly-dyed cloak- hey hang on!"
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:46 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


EndsOfInvention: How do you even discover that stuff like this works? Like "damnit the dog crapped on this cow skin- wow wait a second!"?

Not to mention the use of urine for gunpowder:
"The women piss in their seats, which causes excellent saltpeter," explained Stephens's crew to the sputtering parish clerk at Chipping Norton church, as they tore up the seats and set up their tubs in the churchyard.
What Tang Dynasty alchemist figured that one out?
posted by clawsoon at 11:01 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


They missed one of the best things about those ludicrous shoes: they used the same designs in suits of armour. Yep, full plate armour with five inches of pointiness at the end of the shoes. Or perhaps those are a bit subtle, you can ask your armourer for points on your foot armour as long as your foot. The only reason that you're not as familiar with Stupid Armour For Feet is that most surviving armour today is from the 15th century or later, when the fashion in shoes was for square toes, so the armour had square toes.
posted by Vortisaur at 11:05 AM on June 17 [6 favorites]


Stale urine was the ancient and medieval world's only way to get ammonia so it gets used a lot. Romans used it to bleach and clean clothing, besides as a mordant.
posted by sukeban at 11:07 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]


Everything having to do with tanning and dyeing smelled awful even for ancient and medieval standards, that's why they had to do it downwind and downriver.

Right, Tyrian purple dye works were famously odoriferous, as it was made from the liquid collected after thousands of crushed shellfish were left to putrefy in the sun. The rich purple producing cities of Tyre and Sidon were "unpleasant to live in" because of the smell according to Strabo even though the dye works were well outside of the cities.

But, unlike a tannery, the finished Tyrian purple cloth smelled just as bad as the process that made it. "Neither the stink nor the color is reduced by washing; perfume would have been necessary to disguise the smell, even after washing and long periods of airing." Pliny the Elder called Tyrian purple "among the most abominable of odors" and wondered how something so smelly could be highly valued. The Roman poet insult comic Martial wrote a diss track full of misogyny and antisemitism about a particular woman saying, in part, that he would prefer to smell a "fleece twice dipped in Tyrian purple" than smell her. Smelling worse than double-dipped fleece of Tyrian purple was quite the sick burn of the day.
posted by peeedro at 12:02 PM on June 17 [10 favorites]


hello, pointy tip, i'd like you to meet the exaggerated heel piece
posted by josephtate at 2:48 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


That is clearly a bumper.
posted by rhizome at 11:07 PM on June 17


Stale urine was the ancient and medieval world's only way to get ammonia

And we liked it!
posted by pracowity at 4:37 AM on June 18


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