Sunday, 23 May 2010

Above it all: standing (dangerously) tall

While in Toronto last month, I finally went to the Bata museum, thanks to a note from historical fiction writer (and new Hoydens & Firebrands member!) Susan Holloway Scott about a special exhibit:  "On a Pedestal: From Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels." 

What took  me so long? This is a wonderful museum—and this exhibit was fantastic. I  had no idea!

Here are some of the things that struck me.

Slap-soled shoes (shown above): so named because they make a slapping sound. The flat base was created to keep pointed heels from sinking into the mud.

The more impractical something was, the higher the class: for example, shoes of white kid were fashionable because they were so easily soiled they implied a life of leisure.

Chopines (as seen on the book cover above, and which could rise to truly dangerous heights) signified wealth because of the added cost of the expensive material required for the gown to reach the floor. They were especially popular in Spain and Italy, where they were worn by wealthy married women.

 Curiously, at an earlier period in Italy, law required that prostitutes wear chopines. This Bertelli print (above) of about 1588 shows a "cortesan." A flap comes up to reveal her pantalons and chopines. I was surprised to see pantalons at all: generally, women wore nothing under their skirts.

The late 17th century saw a shift toward lower heels. In France, low-platform mules were worn by both men and women "around the house" (read: castle). The mules for women were little jewels, gorgeously embroidered and embellished, with pointed toes and slender heels.

I appreciated seeing the famed red-painted heels of the aristocratic male of that period. It's likely that the paint has faded, but the color looked more like a rich mahogany stain applied to the stacked leather heels. 

Men's wear tended to have an equestrian function: sturdy, heeled, with broad square toes.

The Sun King, of course — who was passionate about shoes, among other things — wore pretty mules with bright red heels.

For more on this wonderful exhibit, see these links:

(Note: this post was originally posted to Baroque Explorations, my 17th century research blog. I'm in Paris right now, at the end of a research trip in France, and so overwhelmed with wonderful findings I hardly know where to turn! More anon ... )



Alison Stuart said...

It is amazing that there is nothing new in this world, Sandra... as I watch the young girls tottering around on 7" heels thinking they are the latest and greatest fashion trend!
What an interesting exhibition. Good examples of shoes are probably one of those things that don't survive the years.

Alison Stuart said...

I meant to add that Charles II shared a passion for shoes with his cousin, the Sun King. This was probably attributable to his experiences in borrowed footwear on his escape from the Battle of Worcester.