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House Of Cavani's Guide To The Fascinating History Of Men's Footwear

10 Oct 2022

Stretching back through centuries from Ancient Greece to modern-day, footwear has taken many forms throughout history. Now an everyday essential, there was once a time when shoes weren’t part of everyday life. Let’s step back through the varied history of footwear and discover how this life necessity came to be.

Where Did Footwear Originate?

The exact origins of footwear are unknown. However, before countries became interdependent on each other culturally and economically, various cultures began to develop early forms of footwear. 

Thought to have been made in the 1300s, the furthest ancient artefacts dedicated to protecting feet were found in Spain. Peasants commonly wore these shoes to protect them on rough terrain whilst doing intense, laborious jobs.

What are the basic parts of a shoe?

Throughout history, there have been various forms of footwear, but in modern times, the framework of a shoe is simple. 

Shoes always have a sole that meets with the outer terrain. The inside of a shoe is called an insole. Strategically designed to provide you with a comfortable layer between your foot and the bottom layer of your shoe.  

The midsole rests between the two for extra comfort and shock absorption. The heel is designed to protect your foot and keep it in good form, while the vamp is held to protect your toes. 

What did the first shoe look like?

Leather has been a crafting staple since human evolution due to its ease of accessibility. Unsurprisingly, the first leather shoe discovered is said to have been over 5,000 years old and is a testament to leather’s durability.

The first leather shoe was called the Areni-1 Shoe, and although it looks nothing like a modern leather shoe, this footwear was hand-crafted with no equipment and few resources.

What shoes did the ancient Greeks wear? 

Known for theatre, Ancient Greece was a hub that brought communities together, creating stories that would live on to modern times. With the rise in theatre, shoes were created to keep actors in good form and they began to appear behind the scenes and on-stage..

Although actors wore footwear in Ancient Greece, the general public continued to believe that footwear was unnecessary, un-aesthetic and self-indulgent. Shoes worn in Ancient Greece largely resembled sandals and had laces made from leather. These early forms of shoes were worn by both men and women, making them a unisex design.

Some Ancient Greeks used footwear to convey status, but many still preferred to go barefoot. Even the athletes that participated in the ancient Olympic games competed barefoot.

What did the Romans wear on their feet? 

While Ancient Greeks held a minimalistic approach and a cultural belief that self-indulgence was an unattractive trait, the Romans held a completely different view.

Sandals remained a fashion staple throughout the Roman period and only available to those who were considered very wealthy – leaving the poor and lower class to make use of leftover leathers and other materials to function as an alternative. 

What shoes did Roman soldiers wear? 

Roman soldiers wore shoes gifted to them to help display their powerful status. Depending on their level of authority, the quality of the shoes would vary. Of course, the more power a soldier had, the better the shoe. 

The most common shoe made for soldiers was known as the calibrae, which was sandal-inspired thick soled boot made from leather and various other cattle parts.

Roman walking into the distance

How has footwear changed over the years

A lot about footwear has changed since the day when Romans ruled. Footwear has evolved significantly ith engineering breakthroughs, technological advances, and the fashion industry creating a plethora of international trends alongside style staples.

The 19th Century

In the 1800’s shoe making  progressed and became a commonality amongst the wealthy. At the beginning, shoemaking became an essential and expensive craft. This artisanal process resulted in the first boots being created which resembled what we would wear today. 

What shoes were worn in the 19th century?

In the early 1800s, satin and flat-soled shoes were worn and as the decades progressed, heeled shoes were endorsed by many becoming a staple in both men’s and women’s wardrobes.

When the first sole was crafted, it wasn’t long before the mechanical industry completely revolutionised the process. Believed to have been pushed by the British Army, a subdivision in the factory evolution started to make shoes. 

Looking for an affordable, durable solution to help their soldiers, the British Army fueled factories with resources and investment, leading to some of the first mass shoe productions. 

While mass production has perks, it led to a radical decline of custom-crafted shoes, leaving shoemakers out of pocket. Mass-produced shoes also lacked differentiation, and the process brought with it negative environmental impacts.  

When was the first shoe-stitching machine invented in the UK?

In 1856, the first shoe-stitching machine arrived. Created by Lyman Reed Blake, this piece of machinery gave manufacturers new possibilities, allowing for new parts to be automated, and gave designers more room for creativity and exploration.   

The 20th Century

The 20th Century came, and industry was in full action. Mass consumption sky-rocketed with advances in rubber and various materials. While the poor were struggling, this was the start of a modern age that opened people up to new garments at more affordable prices. 

With mass production came the patterns for the left and right shoe and the creation of shoe sizing. However, it’s estimated that most of the shoes developed in the 20th Century will require thousands of years in a landfill to degrade, creating a negative impact on the planet and public health. 

What shoes did they wear in the 1900s

In the 1900s heels began to gain popularity and designers began to explore heels sizes higher than 2 inches. 

The transition between men’s and women’s shoes became more apparent. Not only was the sizing different but women’s shoes were created to be more feminine, incorporating floral patterns and sequins. 


The 21st Century

A time of exceptional growth in fashion and technology came within the early days of the 21st Century. With fast fashion peaking in the 2010s, some manufacturers sacrificed quality to achieve unbelievably low prices. 

While this certainly has its perks, it has created enormous  waste. In fact, according to Keep Tidy Britain, around 10,000 pieces of clothing are being taken to landfill every 5 minutes in the UK alone. 

The sustainable movement in fashion started in the 1970s, but consumerism and materialism overpowered the message. They took a backburner until the 2000s when the visible impact on the environment was becoming very clear due to social media and education efforts. 

Today it’s nearly impossible to shop without any environmental impact, but investing in high-quality items and wearing them for an extra nine months can reduce their carbon footprint by 30%.

Extremely low-priced shoes tend to be of poor quality and high-quality shoes are set to last, especially when well kept. Materials such as leather can be maintained by simply polishing regularly and storing them properly.

How to know whether your shoes are high quality

When we talk about quality, you need to consider two things: how your shoes were made and what material they’re made from. Good quality leather shoes offer superb comfort that will last for years, and while they may be more expensive – you can save in the long run. 

You should be able to tell whether your shoe is poorly made if your stitching is crooked, coming undone or messy. Purchasing from trusted brands that are expert tailors will dissolve any worries about getting a poorly made shoe. 

A selection of leather shoes

After exploring the history of footwear one thing stays true: shoe trends come and go but comfort and quality prevail. The days of uncomfortable, ill-fitting shoes are over. You can find perfect fitted shoes that match your own style, so you can be your best self from laced to chelsea boots.

Although shoes have changed since the beginning of time, here at House of Cavani you can invest in some timeless shoes that are sure to fit the bill. Explore our men’s footwear range now.


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