So, it seems our ancestors weren’t necessarily barefoot. Even though during the Medieval period, only the wealthy elite wore new shoes, the poor masses would still have worn some kind of protective foot covering. There was a widespread practice of repairing and remaking footwear that would have been made from leather and any other available cloth. They weren’t all tottering around on heels either, most men’s shoes were flat. The high heeled ‘poulaines’ of the 14th and 15th centuries with pointy toes and 4” heels were strictly for the aristocracy.
Shoes took a fancier turn in the 17th century under the reign of James I. Large bows or rosettes formed part of the shoe decoration with an arched sole and slight heel. Again, the ornate designs remained the preserve of the wealthy. Following the Civil War, leather military-style boots became increasingly popular, both in Britain and Europe. Even the practical designs for walking and riding would still be embellished with some kind of elegant decoration.
By the late 18th century, shoes were becoming more available for middle class families as well thanks to income rises and more manufacturing sites producing ready-made pairs of shoes. Following the Enlightenment Movement and the French Revolution of the 18th century, the taste in shoe design become much plainer. Laced walking shoes, flat evening footwear, jockey boot, Wellington boot and ankle boots all became popular items of footwear during the early part of the 19th century.
It was this century that saw the emergence of the Oxford and the Derby design of men’s footwear, designs which remain with us today and are as popular as ever. These styles were worn extensively in the 20th century, along with the brogue which has retained its timeless elegance.
The manufacture of footwear became more mechanised and by 1900, most shoes were being made in large factories and sold via retailers as opposed to a hand-made cottage industry. Soon, the middle classes were demanding a much greater range of styles as they took up sports like golf, cycling and tennis – they needed suitable footwear to match. The very best shoemakers still survive today though, especially top-class bespoke shoemakers in London, for example.
From the mid-20th century onwards, the most significant event in men’s shoe fashion has been the huge diversification in styles available. Fashion means that there is now a quicker turnover in fashionable and sought-after designs, greater ranges of pricing and a lot more experimentation in colours and styles. For a truly modern pair of 21st century shoes, check out Mens Rieker Shoes.
Since the 1970s sneakers or trainers have become universally popular as another style of footwear for men to choose. Fashion is a lot more informal than it used to be and this is represented by increased comfort. Originating in the U.S, sneakers as common footwear was inspired by the basketball and skating subcultures of the 1970s and 80s. Since then, trainers have become much-loved and ubiquitous footwear for boys and men all over the world.