While thong sandals were commonly worn, many people in ancient times, such as the Egyptians, Hindus and Greeks, saw little need for footwear, and most of the time, preferred being barefoot. The Egyptians and Hindus made some use of ornamental footwear, such as a soleless sandal known as a “Cleopatra”, which did not provide any practical protection for the foot. The ancient Greeks largely viewed footwear as self-indulgent, unaesthetic and unnecessary. Shoes were primarily worn in the theater, as a means of increasing stature, and many preferred to go barefoot. Athletes in the Ancient Olympic Games participated barefoot – and naked. Even the gods and heroes were primarily depicted barefoot, the hoplite warriors fought battles in bare feet and Alexander the Great conquered his vast empire with barefoot armies. The runners of Ancient Greece are also believed to have run barefoot. Pheidippides, the first marathoner, ran from Athens to Sparta in less than 36 hours. After the Battle of Marathon, he ran straight from the battlefield to Athens to inform the Athenians of the news.
Dutch pattens, ca. 1465. Excavated from the archeological site of Walraversijde, near Ostend, Belgium
Middle Ages and Early Modern period
It is thought that shoes may have been used long before this, but because the materials used were highly perishable, it is difficult to find evidence of the earliest footwear. By studying the bones of the smaller toes (as opposed to the big toe), it was observed that their thickness decreased approximately 40,000 to 26,000 years ago. This led archaeologists to deduce that wearing shoes resulted in less bone growth, resulting in shorter, thinner toes. These earliest designs were very simple in design, often mere “foot bags” of leather to protect the feet from rocks, debris, and cold. They were more commonly found in colder climates.
Many medieval shoes were made using the turnshoe method of construction, in which the upper was turned flesh side out, and was lasted onto the sole and joined to the edge by a seam. The shoe was then turned inside-out so that the grain was outside. Some shoes were developed with toggled flaps or drawstrings to tighten the leather around the foot for a better fit. Surviving medieval turnshoes often fit the foot closely, with the right and left shoe being mirror images. Around 1500, the turnshoe method was largely replaced by the welted rand method (where the uppers are sewn to a much stiffer sole and the shoe cannot be turned inside-out). The turnshoe method is still used for some dance and specialty shoes.
Traditionally, shoes have been made from leather, wood or canvas, but in the 2010s, they are increasingly made from rubber, plastics, and other petrochemical-derived materials. Though the human foot is adapted to varied terrain and climate conditions, it is still vulnerable to environmental hazards such as sharp rocks and temperature extremes, which shoes protect against. Some shoes are worn as safety equipment, such as steel-soled boots which are required on construction sites.