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Quizzing the Anonymous - Why do we wear shoes?
January 19th, 2013
03:29 pm

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Why do we wear shoes?
Only humans wear shoes. Why?

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
http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~trinkaus/2005-Footwear.pdf
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/s1-9/1/79.full.pdf

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
http://legvi.tripod.com/id84.html
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_toe
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.html

...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/articles/volume4/issue4/HarrisonVol4Iss4.pdf

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.

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[User Picture]
From:tandem_bike
Date:January 19th, 2013 10:50 pm (UTC)
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замечательная статья, но как же северные народы?? индейцы... я видела с десяток типов обуви индейцев.. а эскимосы?



Edited at 2013-01-19 10:50 pm (UTC)
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From:shkrobius
Date:January 20th, 2013 12:22 am (UTC)
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Индейцы туфли не носят...
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From:solomon2
Date:January 19th, 2013 10:53 pm (UTC)
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Shoes are nothing, clothes are the real enemy!
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From:artx
Date:January 19th, 2013 11:10 pm (UTC)
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"No, my friends, shoes have very little to do with foot protection "

They did not 40,000 years ago but they do now! Try to walk barefoot across broken glass..

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From:shkrobius
Date:January 20th, 2013 12:37 am (UTC)
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Before the last 120 years, broken glass littering the ground was unheard of, glass was to expensive not to recycle. I was reading Churchill's biography; he ordered to collect all of the broken window glass in London during the Blitz. In 1941, due to the shortages the British were unable to maintain glass production without such recycling. All this wastefulness is recent. Had we walked barefoot there would not be shards of glass everywhere; people would be more careful.
From:dmpogo
Date:January 19th, 2013 11:49 pm (UTC)
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What was the point of paving streets at great expense, if one still needed foot protection?


So that your wheels could turn ?
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From:shkrobius
Date:January 20th, 2013 12:56 am (UTC)
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Not really... Medieval streets were cobbled or unpaved; the wheels turned on those streets, too, and it was easier on the hooves. Paving was for people, hence their use of large flat, fitted stones. In Rome itself wagons were allowed only during the night; the majority of people traveled on foot, on raised side walks, and there were stepping-stones thoughtfully laid at the crossroads. If you visit Pompeii, it is still there.
From:dmpogo
Date:January 19th, 2013 11:53 pm (UTC)
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Since the abrasion/frostbite theory is quite ridiculous ....


You should see my barefoot cat on the snow in -20 C :)
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From:evilnel
Date:January 20th, 2013 12:33 am (UTC)
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Ditto. I live in Minnesota. There was a kid at my brother's college who used to walk around without shoes because he was a hippie. He had frostbite more than once, and people started to jokingly call him toeless hippie.
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From:vdinets
Date:January 20th, 2013 12:28 am (UTC)
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Lack of evidence from Pleistocene doesn't prove anything; soft material items from that time didn't survive at all, with very few exceptions. Rock art depictions of humans are too schematic to show clothing or shoes (except for a few shaman outfits), and the few known sculptural images show naked women with no feet at all.
Many ethnic groups are known to have worn shoes prior to European contact: all Arctic peoples, Amerindians in all areas with even occasional snow cover, Zulus (their footwear was so uncomfortable that one of the first Shaka's military reforms was to force his soldiers to walk barefoot), the Japanese, the Ainu, etc., etc. I don't think Russian lapti have anything to do with Roman influence :-)
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From:shkrobius
Date:January 20th, 2013 01:12 am (UTC)
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In this way you can argue that Pleistocene hunter-gatherers were wearing ties and fishnet stockings...

You are not wearing these bast shoes, right? Nor do you wear flip-flops. So this does not answer the question.

BTW, I've heard that nearly 80% of Asian (and 30-50% of Amerindian) women are flat footed, though most of them are asymptomatic; it is said that Asian ligatures are more flexible than European. Asians seem to prefer broad based feet with low arches, as this is their norm. So it is not impossible that flip-flops aimed to produce this kind of a foot on purpose. A Japanese friend told me that they find a big toe pointing away from other toes quite fascinating, and that their funny toed socks worn with the sandals served to develop and emphasize it. There is undeniable connection between the aesthetics of feet, gait, and posture and the kind of footwear that is worn in a given place. It seems to me obvious that this connection flows both ways.
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From:larisaka
Date:January 20th, 2013 12:44 am (UTC)
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Вот эти сестры прошли Аппалачскую Тропу в 2200 миль босиком, и по снегу тоже.
http://www.barefoothikers.org/barefoot-sisters.html

... When I asked her, "Why Barefoot?" she replied that she and her sister always hiked barefoot as kids, so it just seemed natural to see if they could do this hike the same way. Here are a few other comments I found interesting:

On toughened soles: A few weeks into the hike, the ladies could "run on gravel" without a problem. Also a few weeks into the hike, it took almost an hour wandering around a campsite before the ladies even realized that the ground was "covered in broken glass." Again, not a problem for them.

On cold weather: While they did sometimes wear shoes in the snow, "7 or 8 miles" in snow that didn't come over the tops of their feet was tolerable. I also found it interesting that they were sometimes forced into shoes by ICY conditions, not because it was too cold, but rather "too slippery."

On shoes: Susan notes that, despite the rugged terrain, her feet really didn't hurt "Until [she] put shoes on."

On muscle development: Despite a serious reduction in barefooting opportunities since returning from the hike 5 years ago, Susan reports still having "arch muscles that I can flex."
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From:shkrobius
Date:January 20th, 2013 01:20 am (UTC)
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In the olden days people had sense to wait out harsh winters sitting at home. There is almost no point in walking on snow.

These sisters are quite right about going barefoot. Mother Nature designed us for walking this way; it is not something that needs to be "proved". We wear shoes because we're used to them rather than of necessity.
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From:leolion_1
Date:January 20th, 2013 05:02 am (UTC)
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Мне кажется, что причина комплексная.
Поскольку идея носить обувь в том или ином виде возникала в любых сообществах, кроме самых примитивных, и в те времена, когда особенного культурного обмена между сообществами не было, то ясно, что она связана с какой-то вполне универсальной потребностью. Защита это самый очевидный ответ, в конце концов, если с голыми ногами можно себе позволить бегать по Средиземноморью круглый или почти круглый год, то по Скандинавии так уже не побегаешь.
Дальше, полагаю, на эту естественную потребность немедленнно начали влиять экономический и социальный факторы. Хорошая обувь, которая обеспечивает высокий уровень защиты, не уменьшая комфорта, это довольно дорогое удовольствие во все времена. А желание тех, кто может себе это удовольствие позволить, визуально как можно больше отличаться от тех, кто не может, тоже неизменно, собственно, оно и диктовало (и продолжает) все эти телесные скульптурирования.
Все эти причины смешались в веках в узел обратной связи, и теперь уже мы покупаем открытые сандалии с целью продемонстрировать миру педикюр.

Кстати говоря, жесткая обувь ведь не помогает от "греческой ступни" и не соорудит египетскую без искривления пальцев, результат все равно не будет выглядеть желаемым образом, а выйдет этакий недокитайский вариант.
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From:shkrobius
Date:January 20th, 2013 06:46 am (UTC)
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I agree, but the result is in the eye of the beholder.

It is not quite correct that footwear independently originated in different cultures. There were entire civilizations going barefoot, and most that were shod copied from a few general designs. People who wore shoes were precisely the ones who needed least protection, so this abrasion rationale looks forced.

You are right that there is a feedback and things are getting messier over time, but both the pedicure and shaping of the foot are subservient to an ideal of the perfect form. The question is really about this form, as our need is about this form rather than shoes. Shoes are not for protection, whatever they say; shoes are vehicles for transformation of the self. That is why we have different shoes for different occasions, etc. This is not new, it has always been like that. Shoes do satisfy every need, because there is a shoe for every need. They are worn on our feet for the simple reason that we do not need anything on our feet. So this is the best place for them.
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From:lindagraciela
Date:January 20th, 2013 09:45 pm (UTC)
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в деревнях на Закарпатье до второй мировой ходили босиком все лето, и было от этого несколько крупных неудобств:
- было много заноз, царапин, ссадин, они легко могли загноиться; люди вспоминают недобрым словом нарывы со сливу размером;
- змеи - их до применения ядохимикатов, по воспоминаниям, было сильно больше, и наступить на змею босой ногой - очень рискованная штука, от этого много и болели, и умирали;
- весной и осенью на босых ногах расцветали цыпки, которые и болели, и нагнаивались.

Зимой около дома можно было и босиком, корову покормить-подоить, а к колодцу за водой или к реке обувались, обычно в деревянные подбитые гвоздями башмаки - лед, скользко. Белье полоскать на реку ходили - тоже обувались. А если ехали в лес за дровами или в поле навоз вывозить - всегда обувались. Из соображений то ли травматизма, то ли тепла, а скорее всего и того и другого. Обувь была свернутые из кожи постолы, промокала только так, в нее подкладывали солому, а все ж не ходили босиком зимой.

Из совсем другой оперы - лично я поняла, зачем обувь в доме, когда наскочила с разбегу мизинцем на ножку кресла. Пять минут искр из глаз, месяц хромоты, и хорошо, что не сломала. А потом оказалось, что те, которые быстро бегают (лошади и страусы, например), теряют лишние пальцы на ноге. Простым эволюционным способом - у кого пальцев больше, те их часто на бегу ломают, и выбывают из игры. Остаются те, кому эволюция сделала подарок - отобрала лишние пальцы. А сапиенс может вырезать из шкуры постолы, надеть на ногу и отделаться ушибом, а не переломом. Большое преимущество в эволюции.
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From:shkrobius
Date:January 20th, 2013 10:22 pm (UTC)
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Теперь посмотрите на шимпанзе, и спросите: а почему у нас пальцы на ногах такие короткие? Вы верно говорите, что происходит адаптация, но она не обязательно идет так, как у лошади и страуса. У вас нога уже адаптирована к ситуации, что, скажем потеря отмороженного пальца, Вам лишь помешает двигаться. А короткие пальцы способствуют меньшей потери тепла, и т. д.

Все, что Вы говорите про деревню - верно. И все же ходили, в основном, босиком, кроме совсем уж зимы. Значит, все же риски балансировались настолько, что тратить копеечку на сапоги или свое время на изготовление обуви было жалко. И это в 20-м веке. К неудобствам привыкнуть можно. Может лет через 50 Вы будете рассказывать внукам, как было неудобно ходить, скажем, на платформах: и ноги подворачивали-ломали, и артрит наживали, и зимой ходили по гололеду, и мозоли были размером со сливу. И ведь все верно.
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From:angerona
Date:January 21st, 2013 12:02 am (UTC)
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обувь несомненно меняет форму ноги. Хотя бы на личном опыте: пять лет ношения обуви на мягкой, гибкой "barefoot" подошве, с достаточно широким носком привели к более широкой ступне впереди и удлинившимся вторым пальцам на ноге (хотя они все равно чуть-чуть короче, чем большие). При том, что я такую обувь ношу не всегда -- на работу зачастую одеваю обычную, хотя бы зимой.
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From:shkrobius
Date:January 21st, 2013 01:03 am (UTC)
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Конечно меняет, особенно у детей. Страшно подумать, сколько искалеченных ног оставила, скажем, советская власть эпохи загнивания, когда все было дефицитом. Когда я был мальчиком, обувь было найти очень трудно, а я все время рос и все время что-то донашивал, тесное и натирающее мозоли, или наоборот, покупались ботинки заранее на вырост, и нога болталась, съезжала вбок.

Ступни загорающих на пляже напоминали диковинные корни, женщины стеснялись снимать туфли. В голову не приходило, что бывает иначе.

Переводил знакомому Мандельштамовское "я человек эпохи Москошвея". Говорит: емкий поэтический образ... Какой там образ... Снял ботинки. Тут у него челюсть и отвисла...
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From:stas
Date:January 21st, 2013 08:38 am (UTC)
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I think I have "Greek feet", don't know if it is a coincidence or not, I also always had hard time to find any rigid-form shoes that fit me comfortably. Usually I wear only soft shoes, luckily I spend most of my life in places where the weather allows wearing light soft shoes virtually all year round. Though I know some people that wear the flip-flops year round...
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From:shkrobius
Date:January 22nd, 2013 03:16 am (UTC)
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The consolation is that it is still the artistic ideal...
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From:shkrobius
Date:January 22nd, 2013 03:00 am (UTC)
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Or perhaps the author is not an Eskimo and understands "we" less exclusively.

So when you put slippers on it is to survive in a greater variety of conditions! Thank you for opening my eyes.
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From:arbat
Date:February 3rd, 2013 08:22 pm (UTC)
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Shemot 3:5
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From:shkrobius
Date:February 3rd, 2013 10:13 pm (UTC)
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Of course. It is all about the ideas of purity and perfection. I am amazed that of all topics covered in the series the shoes and soap caused such stirring of emotion...
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