What kind of a need a shoe can fill that has not been requested in 150 kyr of barefoot human existence? Mind that the rift valley of Africa (which is our supposed ancestral ground) is no softer on soles than Colorado mesa. If anything, the need for protection against abrasions markedly reduced over time. It is likely that our footgear deforms our feet and distorts gait more than it protects, foot care wise. A few bruises is a small price to pay for flat feet, hallux vagus, bunions, hammer toes, Athlete's foot, and the revolting stink - all of which are the integral part of shod life.
We are so hang up on shoes that even pre-historic men are routinely depicted as wearing leather contraptions looking as functional as the stiletto heels. In fact, no one wore shoes until the end of the Pleistocene: the earliest discovered sandals are from North America around 6-9.5 kya, and the earliest discovered leather shoes date from 3500 BC. This is very late in the game. Men should've been remarkable stupid to invent shoes during the warm period after going bare through the glacial. The Paleolithic feet spread into all corners of the globe treading in the coldest of winters. Archaeology provides no direct evidence for shoes. There are no depictions of footwear. No shoe footprints. People wore elaborate clothing for millennia before anyone thought of shoes. The materials were readily available, yet no one thought footwear necessary (as we do not see the necessity of nose wear, belly button wear, or ear wear). There is a challenge to this orthodoxy
claiming that hard-sole footwear was universal by 30 kya (from analysis of foot bone structure), but the argument is vague. Show me the shoes, then I will believe you.
Since the abrasion/frostbite theory is quite ridiculous (hundreds of millions of people around the world go without shoes without much discomfort), pseudo-medical theories fill the void. One hears, for instance, that shoes protect against hookworms. That's obviously not true. Sandals do not do anything on principle, and other types of footwear are generally ineffective
...As the parasite tends to be found mainly in mud and cesspools, its spread cannot be stopped by most standard shoes since the larvae can penetrate fabric and small holes. Also, the parasite may spread through contaminated material coming into contact with any part of the body, such as through flecks of mud splashing on an ankle or leg. http://www.ajtmh.org/content/s1-9/1/7
Ancient civilizations looked at shoes with dark suspicion. The Egyptians and Greeks considered them to be decadent and seldom used footwear. The Romans took the opposite view; we wear shoes largely because Europe has been conquered by Roman infantry. The soldiers wore their sandals over thick socks (calligulae), an abomination that is still rampant in Germany, the land of blue-eyed barbarians, on which these military boots left a lasting impression in more than one sense. Yet even these war mongering Latins retained bare feet as the ideal form in their art. It is said
that they painted sandals over barefoot marbles (which in my book beats even woolen socks in sandals), but, at least, they rarely carved the footwear. Walking barefoot was the divine privilege; everyone wanted to be seen at their best, which meant being without shoes. The notorious hob-nailed military boots, inter alia, were used in combat, which did not add to their popularity among the civilians:
... Juvenal commented on the brutal use of boots on civilians and the imprint of studs on a victim's face. Josephus recounted the anecdote of a Roman centurion who was killed by a mob after his hobnails caused him to skid on stone paving and fall over, and it seems that soldiers form the frontiers, visiting Rome and unused to paved streets, were the butt of metropolitan humor. (“Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome” by M.C. Bishop & J.C.N. Coulston)
The city folk knew better than wearing clumsy shoes. What was the point of paving streets at great expense, if one still needed foot protection? Just think trough the insanity of it... We have degraded to a point when even such self-obvious thoughts require mental exertion. Perhaps the streets were unsanitary and dirty, with terrible diseases spreading through the soles of unprotected feet. Open sandals (working in mysterious ways) saved millions of human lives from certain death, just like soap.
No, my friends, shoes have very little to do with foot protection (barefoot people are careful where they step), hygiene (ditto), or even adornment (the ancients preferred shoes showing as much of a foot as possible). It is hard to pin down the need a shoe could have satisfied. My suspicion is that it was used to sculpt the foot. A foot of a man wearing shoes does not look like a foot of a person who never wore shoes.
A striking feature of the ancient sculpture is the abundance of "Greek feet" with a long second toe, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morton's_
which statistically is a rare condition in the modern Europe, despite it being a recessive trait.
...3/4 of the population have a so-called Egyptian foot which is characterized by a great toe longer than the second toe, 1/6 of the population have a so-called Greek foot, where the great toe is shorter than the second toe, while the rest of the population have a square foot where the great toe has the same length as the second. The reference to Egypt is due to the fact that in Egyptian paintings the great toe appeared longer than the second toe. The reference to Greece is due to the fact that Greek statues showed feet having the second toe longer than the great toe. Notwithstanding the prevailing anatomy, nearly all the Roman statues, often copies of Greek originals, have Greek feet. It is not easy to find a statue with an evident Egyptian foot, because even Egyptian statues have Greek feet. http://romeartlover.tripod.com/Feet.htm
...Kaplan (1964) claimed that the relative length of the hallux [big toe] and second toe is simply inherited, long hallux being recessive. In Cleveland Caucasoids the frequency of the dominant and recessive phenotypes was 24% and 76%, respectively. Usually the first toe is longest. http://omim.org/entry/189200
...The Laetoli footprints made by Australopithecus afarensis over 3.5 Mya display a longer second toe. A longer second toe, often called “Greek foot,” as representative of early hominid ancestors, whereas a shorter second toe, often called “Egyptian foot,” was thought to be more “progressive” and “recent” in hominid evolution. Ontogenetic evidence suggests a possible link between second toe length and prenatal androgenization, and therefore it is possible that a longer second toe is related to behaviors and traits previously shown to be associated with testosterone. http://shell.newpaltz.edu/jsec/arti
A longer big toe is a recessive trait (in opposition to our ancestral condition) that can be linked to the testosterone imbalance during the gestation. Whatever the latter might be doing (making us more civilized?), it has been so successful that Egyptian foot folk have replaced the older population, and the Greek foot became a rarity. As such it also became the object of admiration, symbolizing the bygone simplicity and virtue.
The ancient Greeks were lucky to have their Greek feet through the founder effect, but the others were not so fortunate, and when the Greek ideal of physical perfection became universal, the ugliness and vulgarity of their feet become overbearing. Whether they have tried to hide it or correct it I cannot tell, but the result of their labors is for all to see. The shape of our feet is as artificial as an iPod.
I surmise we wear shoes for no other reason than to make our feet to look this way. They have been invented to achieve the desired foot shape, and we still carry this ideal forward. Since no one remembers the original reasoning, there has been various rationalizations, one more grotesque than the other. However, this reasoning is a separate issue that is rooted in the ancient ideals of aesthetics and divinity. I do not insist on the Greek foot theory; it is less important than the general point. The Chinese have been binding feet for hundreds of years, and flesh sculpting is common in the world in general. No one precisely knows how such things begin, but the need must have been desperate.
This is something that one should remember when asking to satisfy one's "needs". One should not make such requests lightly, as they have consequences that are worthy of contemplation while you lace a shoe. This satisfaction may be provided long after the articulated need had been forgotten. This satisfaction itself becomes a need, and nothing remains of the original desire than this need and the satisfaction chasing each other’s tails.
Women have dozens of shoes for every occasion. Why do they need all these shoes? They may suffer through this love; that does not stop them. Few men understand diddly-squat about these shoes; that does not stop them either. Shoes go deep into the human psyche, and this feminine obsession is just one of its more visible manifestations; we are all guilty. I am reminded of that every morning, as I am putting on my shoes.
Blessed be the one who satisfies my every need.