Everyone knows “you can always judge a man by his shoes”, says Richard Brooks in The Observer, but exactly what our footwear reveals about us has shifted over time. Women have worn high heels as a “statement of power” for centuries, from pearl-buttoned Victorian boots “worn to titillate and dominate”, to Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahniks and Christian Louboutins. Yet heeled boots used to be the preserve of men. Soldiers in Assyria wore them around 700BC, when their invention coincided with the development of the stirrup – the chunky kicks enabled weapon-laden soldiers to “sit more firmly in the saddle”. Elizabeth I even wore heeled boots to emphasise her “masculinity”.
“Footwear can also change its purpose quite rapidly.” Cowboy boots were initially made for equine work, but later taken up by men, and even more so by women, as everyday wear. Doc Martens first came about after World War Two, when a German army doctor wanted to protect his broken foot with an “air-cushioned sole”. Within a few years they had become the go-to footwear for “elderly female gardening enthusiasts”. By the 1960s, they were popular among both mods and punks, and today have become synonymous with “androgyny and rebelliousness”. “Boots may indeed be ‘made for walkin’’, but their history tells us so much more.”