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Fashion: Footwear

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Not much can be recounted about footwear from ancient Egypt, as most of the population—men, women, and children; rich and poor—did not wear footwear often, not even Pharaoh. It is only during the New Kingdom that we see such gear being used. Nonetheless, there have been some evidences of ancient footwear. During the Old and Middle Kingdoms, men of high rank were typically the ones who wore shoes or sandals; women rarely, if ever, wore sandals. It was probably only during times of outings or of battle that the former wore footwear. Despite the infrequent use of sandals and the like, the wealthy, especially Pharaoh, had sandal-bearers to carry their shoes when they were not wearing them, which rarely occurred.  One particular pair of sandals had decorated on the bottom a Nubian or a Sumerian, bound captives.  This image no doubt denotes that, every time Pharaoh walked, he was trampling his enemies.


In relation, it was said that when Pharaoh went out to the battlefield, he brought his shoe bearers to carry his sandals. Of course, they would be in carriages behind his larger chariot. A rather useless job, would you not say? For, why bring one to battle, ultimately risking their lives, all for the fact that they had to carry your rarely used sandals?


Anyhow, during the New Kingdom, sandals became a slightly more used item. Yet, custom remained that one go barefoot. It was also during this time that one was never to wear sandals before a superior, if he was not wearing any himself. For example, a queen would not wear footgear if her husband, say, Pharaoh, was not wearing any himself. This custom is closely related to our modern custom of speaking when spoken to. Just as this would keep a group of people silent, the aforementioned ancient custom [of the New Kingdom] would keep people from wearing shoes, no doubt. However, this is just pure hokum, coming from your webmistress.


Essentially, the ancients employed only one basic form when making a sandal. The following is a general description of such: some sandals had soles made of leather, other of papyrus reed, and yet others with soles of palm bast—the tough fibers of this plant. The straps were then made of the same material as the sole. The placements of these straps were thus: one just below the front of the ankle, another up from the sole and in-between the toes, and sometimes there was a third strap behind the heel to hold better the sandal to the foot. In addition, there were two basic forms of the toe of the sandal: bent up and over the foot—rather, curled over the foot—, in order to protect the toes or uncurled, but with a round or pointed tip.


It was only until the Late Period that sandals with sides came into existence; these sandals bear a slight resemblance to the modern show—only in form, however, not in design and sans brand name.



General Construction of a Sandal


Shoemakers of the New Kingdom—because there have been no such leathern evidences from the Old or Middle Kingdoms—made sandals and shoes out of coarse leather, from less valuable skins—oxen or gazelles.


The process of making a simple shoe of the New Kingdom is thus: first, a man skilled in working with leather softens it in a large vessel. Then, he beats it with a stone until it is of appropriate smoothness. After, he manually—with bare hands—stretches and pulls it over a three-legged wooden frame until it attains an apt elasticity. The above is just the preparation of the leather for the shoemaker. Once in the shoemaker’s hands, he puts the smoothed and supple leather on a sloping worktable, where he uses a knife with a curved blade and short handle—much like today’s device, serving the same purpose—to cut it into soles or straps. Then, with an awl, a tool for making small holes, the shoemaker punches into the appropriate places of the shoe; it is through these holes that he draws the straps.


Cline, Eric H. and Jill Rubalcaba.  The Ancient Egyptian World.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 2005.


Dollinger, André.  Ancient Egypt:  an introduction to is history and culture. September 2006 <>.


Tortora, Phyllis and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume:  A History of Western

     Dress. 3rd ed. New York:  Fairchild Publications, 1998.

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