Sunday, September 10, 2017

A brief history of shoe horns

'Shoe horning,' is an act of coercing or pressuring an individual into a situation which does not leave them much choice in the matter. Like many other terms relating to footwear, which pass into the language they take on a new meaning. All of which begs the question what is a shoe horn and more importantly, where did they come from.

Shoe horns (sometimes known as a shoe spoons or shoeing horns) have a mysterious past and no one knows where they originated but they were certainly in daily use by the fifteenth century. Reference to them appears in the literature of the time including a poem entitled "A Shoemaker's Verse Testament" (c.1475-1500). The shoemaker is making plans to leave his possessions to his son, one of which is his shoe horn.

‘He bequeythed to his sone Tome
Hys chaspy and his schoyng horne
With pyrdowy.’

Original shoe horns were probably carved from horn or bone as whittling was common craft among agricultural people in the Middle Ages. Everything then was put to good use but it is rather unclear whether the items were made for the convenience of the family or more likely sold at market. Shoes in the Middle Ages were expensive and ordinary people either went barefoot or wore rough shoes, clogs or homemade boots making the need for a shoe horn minimal.

Rich people could afford bespoke footwear and were more likely in need of shoe accessories such as a shoehorn. The fashion for tight shoes worn by the wealthy Elizabethans may have bolstered the market for well crafted shoe horns.

By the 16th and early 17th century neat fitting shoes (shoe corsets) were all the rage and the well turned shoe horn was an essential accessory for Dandy and lady of the time. These were made in silver, tortoiseshell, brass, whalebone, wood and ivory among many other materials. As the known world expanded so too did the range of materials used to craft shoe horns. With the expanding colonies the need to pack a sturdy shoe horn was essential kit for the well prepared settler.

The fashion for button boots brought with it the need for button hooks. These were handles to help fasten the ornate footwear. Shoe horns and buttonhooks were closely connected and often bought in sets. Many Victorian shoehorns began carrying advertising messages or slogans which were used as promotional gimmicks. Buttonhooks stayed popular up until the First World War but had almost disappeared by the beginning of the Second World War.

Shoe horns continued to be made but as the plastic industry took off after the war most were now produced in plastic. The demise of the shoehorn mirrors the rise in popularity of fashionable casual footwear and whilst they are still manufactured they are no longer produced as crafted artifacts. This of course has made old shoe horns very collectable.

The modern shoe horn comes either as a long-handled model to reduce bending and straining or standard size with a built up grip for better handling.

The science of shoe throwing

If 2008 is to be remembered for anything – it will be shoe throwing. Thanks to research we know more about this emerging sport which may be someday an Olympic event.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Where have all the BKs gone?: A potted history of British Knights (BKs)

British Knights was founded by Jack Schwartz Shoes Inc. (NY) in 1983. They had instant appeal with a large tongue, stocky sole design, and BK logos on the toe guard, upper part, and heel. Hip hoppers took to wearing them because of their streetwise chic and soon BKs were being promoted in music videos by Public Enemy (US), Beats International (UK), and Technotronic (European). Endorsement for British Knights followed and, the 1991, BK’s advert featured “U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer. Unlike their rivals, the company took a bold policy decision by not including sportspeople in their endorsement stable.

Space Age technology resulted in the development of new synthetic polymers which when stable could provide unique properties like shock attenuation. In the 90s BKs added a silicone visco-elastic material shaped as a green diamond and this was embedded into the shoe’s sole window. This was called the Dymacel and acted principally as a shock reducing agent. Many manufacturers used so called, human enhancement additions to their shoes to improve comfort but most proved to be advertising novelties with no particular worth.

BKs now came with a lense shaped tag to hang the shoes through its laces. This was another novelty to appeal to the street wise customers and in particular street gangs like the Crips and Bloods who had evolved an elaborate non verbal form of communication which included ‘lace talk.’ For a time in the '80s the slang name for BK's was Bitch Kickers. The marketing ploy worked and BKs shoes sold well particularly with Crips gangs who attributed the acronym BK to Blood Killa. (their rival gang). Eventually the association with gang culture had an adverse effect on their sales when some authorities banned students from wearing BK shoes on campus at schools, colleges and universities.

Keen to expand, as well as disassociate from any criminal elements the company decided to include high profile sportspeople to endorse their new BKs with Dymacel technology. Derrick Coleman (New Jersey Nets) and Xavier McDaniel (New York Knicks) became BK men.

Despite their new clean cut image sales dropped and Jack Schwartz Shoes Inc finally leased the BK trademark in 1996 to a German company who manufactured of inexpensive skate shoes.

The company released new BKs as running shoes in limited editions but by 2008 the company decided to re-launch the original 1989 range of Leader Hi and Lo, Kings SL in Hi and Lo, and Ultra.

The move was successful and now hip hopper enthusiasts are once again clamoring for more BKs.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Manolo: The boy who made shoes for Lizards (Trailer)

Foot fetishism and paraphilias : What's that all about?

Foot fetish is considered the most common fetish. Hands and feet are tactile and supplied with thousands of nerves, which makes them very useful for finding things in the dark. The sensory nerve supply to feet originates in the same part of the brain as the nerves which go to the pelvic area and in some people (not all) there is neural print through, which means touching the sole of their feet would be the same as tickling their fancy.

Some people have an attraction to parts of the body and or clothing which includes feet, stockings/pantyhose/socks, or shoes. Rarely are all involved but whatever the fetish is it will play an important role in pre-coital behaviour. These partialisms are usually innocuous and considered normal. No one yet knows how people develop fetishes although preferred sexual behaviours are most certainly in part at least governed by biological factors but likely to be the product of history, environment and nature.

Men are more likely to have a fetish and no one is entirely sure why this is so. Sigmund Freud first described fetishism as compensation behaviour when performance anxiety arose in males. He called this the Castration Theory and how it could be overcame in the presence of fetishistic objects like shoes, feet or pantyhose. Performance anxiety is a male fear and this may explain why fetishism is almost always a male behaviour. The anxiety neurosis can manifest in a continuum of behaviour with intensity and range which varies from a partial liking of the object to a complete sexual obsession with it.

Abnormal fetishism is called paraphilia and describes established anti-social behaviour. Fetishistic objects may be either inanimate (e.g. a shoe); or animate (e.g. a foot). Inanimate object fetish is sub-divided into form and media.

Form fetish refers to the shape of the object e.g. lady’s shoe; and media fetish relates to the material the item is made from e.g. leather or fur or rubber.

Animate fetish describes parts of the (female) body such as feet, legs and ankles. Fetishists require some specific attraction in the object which may include colours, shape and or smell. Without these features then no attraction will take place. In the majority of cases, low level fetishism poses no danger to others and individuals usually pursue their use of the fetish object in private or with other consenting adults.

Retifists (shoe fetishists) collect women's shoes (sometimes by stealing them) to have sex with the shoe. Retifists usually have exquisite taste for elegant styles with specific form and media determining their preferences. Pedal lovemaking is usually combined with elaborate games which involve trampling (walking over a person) or seeing woman wearing high heels stomping on the balloons; crush fetishists who revel in using their feet to crush things including small animals; messy fetishists who get kicks from wet shoes e.g. golden showers or patent leather shoes. There are enormous variations which include tickling, bondage, licking and shrimping (i.e. toe sucking).

It is quite impossible to know how many foot and shoe fetishists there are simply because fetishists usually keep their preferences a closely guarded secret. As a group they maintain a close network where they function comfortably within a culture of clubs, websites and magazines to support special interests. On the World Wide Web there are millions of websites which deal with foot fetishism alone. Fetishists are found in every level of society with the number of low to mid-level fetishists in Australia are enough to fill the Sydney Cricket Ground to capacity.


A significant spike in interest in foot sex arose during the 80s after the identification of HIV. Similar patterns were also recorded in history when plagues of sexually transmitted disease arose. This may support the theory foot sex is associated with safe sexual practice.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Sydney Shoemaker: Andrew McDonald

Andrew McDonald is a former nurse and medical photographer who studied to be a shoemaker at Sydney's Ultimo TAFE. The Australian shoe designer and maker however, is no fan of fashion high heels. He brands them “the purest form of fashion escapism" and prefers to design a shoe to look good but also to function well on the kinetic foot.

Each pair of shoes he crafts takes an average 40 hours to make. Starting with feet measurements and intimate design requirements he has a fitting three weeks later. Using scrap leather he makes a "foot toile" to try the shoe for size before making heel height adjustments. The finished shoe arrives about four to six weeks later. The bespoke footwear comes at a price which varies from $800 to $1200 AUS for women and $1600 to $2000 for men. He also produces a cheaper, ready-to-wear range that starts at $450 and tops out at $1200 US.

Andrew McDonald has created shoes for films including the Star Wars trilogy, Superman Returns and Wolverine, but his core clientele comprises professional women in their 30s and 40s who work in creative industries such as architecture, design and the arts. McDonald estimates there are just 12 people in Australia making bespoke shoes professionally.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Sandal vs Jandal Wars: A brief history of the plastic thong

After the Second World War it was important to build up the economies Asia countries and help them become self sufficient. One of the first industries to boom was the footwear industry with mass-produced plastic sandals becoming a major export. By the fifties, new molding techniques for rubber and plastic were introduced in Taiwan and elsewhere which allowed cheaper shoes to be turned out in their millions.

Traditionally wooden sandals were the footwear of choice for millions of ordinary people in Asia. Simple sandals consisting of foot platform with toe and sometimes heel attachments (thongs) were known to exist in Stone Age times and are thought to represent one of the first shoe designs. Different cultures used whatever raw materials were to hand to craft the simple foot cover. Wooden sandals were worn in the Middle East and India (these are clearly depicted on sculptures, temples and in Sanskrit writing, circa 3000 BCE: rice straw sandals in China and Japan; rawhide sandals in Africa and papyrus (paper) sandals were worn in Egypt (circa 1500 B.C.E.).

In Persia sandals were crafted from wood and had a toe separator between the first and second toe with no thong. Platform soles were worn in bath houses and harems. Often the wooden sandals were intricately inlaid with pearl and other semi precious stones. By Biblical times sandals were commonly worn throughout much of the known world. Wood was hard wearing, readily available and preferred by some religious sects e.g. Hindus, who would not wear leather. It remains unclear whether these sandals were indigenous to India or taken from Persia (or vice versa). Trade between the Western and Eastern civilization was well established in antiquity and it is expected fashion exchange took place along the Spice and Silk routes. So it is possible the thong sandal was taken to the Far East from the Mediterranean but also as likely the reverse is true. No one really knows.

Traditionally the Japanese wore two styles of traditional sandal i.e. the zori and the geta. Zori were flat bottomed sandals originally made with straw sole and leather thongs and held between the first and second toes. These are also known as Tatami Sandals. These were widely used in Japan from at least the Heian period (794-1185) although there is no history beyond this to indicate whether these were indigenous or imported to Japan.

The Japanese geta is a wooden platform sandal held to the feet with a flexible thong (sometimes rope or a black velveteen fabric) that goes through the base of the sandal, up between the big toe and the second toe and then the two ends go over the arch back toward the middle or back of the foot. Getas are worn barefoot whereas Zori and Tatami sandals are worn with tabi, which is white cotton foot covering (like socks) with a split toe, between the big toe and the other four toes for the sandal thong.

In 1956, the Olympic Games were covered on television for the first time and the eyes of the world fell on Melbourne, Australia. When the Japanese swimming team came to the pool side they wore getas. The ceremonial procession became a camera spectacle which was broadcast all over the world. The fashion for plastic flip flop sandals soon followed thanks to a Hong Kong based shoe manufacturer, John Cowie who had previously had seen Getas, Tatami and Zori sandals on a visit to Japan. He took advantage of the new plastic industry and started to mass produce plastic thongs. New Zealander, Maurice Yock then took them to New Zealand and patented rubber thongs calling them Jandals (a combination of Japan and Sandal) in 1957.

Plastic sandals were mass produced cheaply in Japan and became a stable post war manufacturing industry especially when they started selling all over the world. New Zealand sales rocketed and soon Australians wanted to wear the casual sandals they had seen on the Melbourne Olympics. Other parts of the Far East wore variations on the thong type of sandal and these are considered unique to these regions.

In Singapore the thong attachment is a strap across the top of the foot which follows the metatarsal heads. This is known as the Singapore Slide and the design later became incorporated into the Scholl Exercise Sandal.

In the Philippines, the wooden platform was decorated with intricate and ornate carvings. The US troops posted to the Pacific eagerly took home the carved platform sandals as souvenirs and many believe this was why sandals became popular in the US after the war.

By the mid to late 50s in UK and Western Europe the new plastic flip flops from the east were a must for all package holiday tourists visiting the sun kissed beaches of the Mediterranean. In the 60s cheap shoes found popularity among many low social economical demographics including populations previously used to wearing straw espadrilles.

In South America the plastic pluggers were called Havaianas (pronounced ha-vie-yon-ahs) or flip-flops. In recent years the humble flip flop has become staple fair for the elegant fashionista.

The normal construction of the plastic thong usually has the thong attachment riveted to the plastic base. This is called a 'single plugger' thong. Due to an apparent fault in the production line a double rivet was madfe and the thongs were chrisitained "double pluggers." To the best of my knowledge out of all thong wearers across the globe its only Australia the Double Plugger holds sartorial sway.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Football Cleats : The cutting edge

An essential part of the football boot (any code) is the cleat (stud) which attaches to the sole of the shoe and gives greater traction against the ground surface as well as improve stability of the athlete in motion. Football cleats prevent players from slipping and assist them in rapid changes of direction. The physical nature of the different football codes have resulted in the development of different types of cleats.

Modern soccer cleats are available in different materials and can be either be fixed (usually molded) to the shoe or are removable. At first cardboard cleats were used but these were replaced by rubber cleats in the early days whereas more recently cleats are made from synthetic polymers which are sometimes combined to give added strength.

Aluminum tipped cleats has been introduced and seem to be gaining popularity. In the past every major club had a 'Boot man,' whose job it was to ensure all the boots were well maintained. The Boot mans' experience was invaluable as he would impart his knowledge to the younger players on the type and pattern of studs to wear to suit the weather and ground conditions.

Cleat patterns (systems) help distribute pressure across the boot. Soccer cleats are usually worn higher on the heel and lower on the forefoot to give the player grip and different types are matched to ground conditions. To avoid slipping on soft, wet grounds cleats need to be long enough that penetrate the surface but without damaging the turf or synthetic surface. Lower softer cleats are required on firm grounds.

Injuries related to wearing the wrong cleats are quite common and can involve the knees and ankles. According to experts the most common knee injuries caused by wrong choice of the cleats are those to the ligaments and ankle injuries are usually due to sprains. Misplaced cleats on the sole of the boot may result in painful blisters. In recent years controversy has prevailed on the misuse of cleats in accidentally (or otherwise) wounding other players by cutting their skin.

The soccer code was quick to pick up on polymer cleats but rugby codes were less inclined. Now there are no longer any restrictions on specific types of studs provided they are not interpreted as “sharp or abrasive” by the referee (LAW 4(4b), IRB Regulations). The rules were changed and the IRB and RFU passed the responsibility for stud compliance under IRB Regulation 12 (and earlier for the BS kite mark) away from the referee onto players, coaches and club management. Pre-match, referees only checks for dangerous studs or illegal configurations.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Jacob Boehme: A cobbler who did not stick to his last

Jacob Boehme (1575 – 1624) was an unschooled shoemaker who was born in Saxony (Germany) in 1575 and became one of the world’s deepest and profound mystics with a huge body of written work to his credit. He came from poor but pious parents who were Lutherans. As a young boy he spent most of his time alone taking care of cattle. From an early age he had developed a profound understanding of the scriptures. As a teenager, Jacob concentrated all his efforts on becoming a shoemaker. Then one day whilst serving a customer, the stranger forecast Jacob would become a world famous mystic and philosopher. He was advised to be pious, fear God and revere 'His Word.' throughout his life. The strangers also forecast Jacob would need to endure misery, poverty, and persecution throughout his life and his courage and love of God would see him safely through.

From 1612 to 1624, he wrote thirty books but his greatest work was his first book, “The Aurora: That Is, the Day-Spring” but the publication was banned by the city council and the shoemaker ostracised ordered never to write again. Despite this his fame grew and Jacob eventually years later resumed his work clandestinely.

John Wesley required all of his preachers study the writings of Jacob Boehme. He remained persecuted throughout his live and predicted the date of his own death in 1624.

The Roman writer, Pliny the Elder, told the story in Naturalis Historia [XXXV, 85[1] (Loeb IX, 323–325)], about the painter Apelles of Kos who was in the habit of hanging his pictures where they could be seen by the passers-by, and listening to their comments. One day a shoemaker criticised the sandals in a certain picture, and found next day that they had been repainted. Proud of his success as a critic, the shoemaker began to find fault with a thigh of the picture, when Apelles called out from behind the canvas, "ne supra crepidam sutor iudicaret" (a shoemaker should not judge beyond the shoe).