It’s time to get dressed in the morning, and in a completely unexpected twist, you have no choice but to wear snow boots for what feels like the 100th consecutive day. But, as we grow increasingly bitter over February’s frostbite, let's not forget that plenty of other fascinating footwear options exist. Here to help us fantasize about chaussures past is Rebecca Shawcross, the shoe resources officer at Northampton Museum’s The Shoe Collection, the world’s largest heritage shoe collection. Released this January, her book, SHOES: An Illustrated History, provides a stunning visual timeline of prehistoric to contemporary styles — some so bizarre you'll rethink your whole idea of what's "ugly."
Shoes have always served a practical and fantastical purpose, and Shawcross’ text demonstrates how shifting notions of taste have affected fabrics and shapes over time. In just a few years, shoe trends could go from an exaggerated pointed-toe heel, to a simple leather slip-on, to sandals with a million straps. And, while the weather is arguably the most powerful dictator of our footwear decisions at the moment, Shawcross reminds us that socio-economic status was once a key determinant. Much like hemlines and haircuts, shoes have always been signifiers of cultural change, and this book digs into that a bit deeper.
Shawcross’ SHOES can be purchased on Amazon, but keep reading for a sampling of the footwear featured. While we admit that most of these styles wouldn’t stand a chance against Manhattan’s sludgy sidewalks, their unique flair and rich history are enough to at least momentarily rid our minds of the winter chills.