When you think of everyday shoes, what comes to mind? Is it futuristic, colorful trainers with all the bells and whistles? Comfortable and stylish sneakers that provide just the right amount of support and protection?
Footwear can be both practical and aesthetic, and its allure throughout history is undeniable. Shoes appear frequently in literature, film and music as objects of beauty, function, power and even magic, such as Cinderella's glass slippers. But when they were first invented, shoes had one purpose: To protect the wearers' feet.
This article discusses how shoes have changed over time from simple coverings made of natural materials to the carefully designed and constructed items they are today.
The Evolution of Shoes: The First Footwear
Humans have been walking and running barefoot for most of their evolutionary history. In fact, researchers say that humans only started wearing some form of shoes with soles approximately 40,000 years ago.
The oldest shoes discovered so far were sandals found in Oregon by an archeologist Luther Cressman in 1938. They are believed to date to 7000 or 8000 BC.
The shoes, named the "Fort Rock sandals" after the cave where they were found, were made from shredded sagebrush bark and had thick, flat soles. Researchers believe they were intended for winter wear.
However, while providing some protection against the terrain and the elements, these simple sandals likely weren't comfortable or durable.
In fact, very few examples of ancient shoes made from natural materials exist because they easily decomposed over time. The Fort Rock sandals escaped this fate because they were preserved under layers of volcanic ash.
When In Rome: Boots and Other Footwear Innovations
An article about the timeline of shoes won't be complete without mentioning Ancient Rome.
The Romans were among the first in recorded history to wear not just one but several types of shoes. While Rome's neighbors in Egypt and Greece either went barefoot or wore simple sandals, Romans developed different styles for different needs. These included:
- Soleae – Leather or papyrus sandals for indoor use
- Calceus – Leather boot-like shoes that encased the entire feet and ankle
- Cabatina – House shoes, also worn by off-duty soldiers
- Soccus – Leather slippers
- Sandalium – Women's sandals with wooden soles
- Gallicae – Durable work boots designed for cold weather
- Cothurnus – High, thick-soled boots that served as a symbol of status and power
Unlike the earliest forms of footwear that were only meant to protect the feet of the wearer, the shoes of ancient Romans had unique styles and specific functions that differentiated them from each other. Many were even decorated. As the Roman Empire grew, their footwear became more ornate and lavish. Shoes were often ornamented with jewels, gold trim, gold leaf and embroidery.
The Roman's love for footwear translated into several innovations that spread worldwide. For instance, they were the first to make shoes designed specifically for left and right feet. They also introduced the concept of nailed shoe construction.
The Evolution of Shoes: The Early Sneaker
Fast-forward to the 1830s, The Liverpool Rubber Company invented the first sports shoes. Its founder, John Dunlop, developed a lightweight shoe with canvas uppers bonded to rubber soles. Initially called sandshoes, they were worn to the beach by Victorian holidaymakers.
The shoes were eventually renamed plimsolls. In 1929, tennis great Fred Perry wore a pair of Dunlop's Green Flash plimsolls during his Wimbledon wins.
Until the 1950s, sneakers were primarily worn while engaging in sports and other physical activities. However, children and teenagers soon began wearing them regularly. Eventually, sneakers became a popular casual footwear option for people of all ages.
Modern Sneakers: Stylish, Functional and Feature-Packed
Many factors contributed to the increase in the popularity of sneakers. One example is how musicians, athletes and celebrities frequently wore them, encouraging their fans to do the same.
Eventually, footwear manufacturers began to design sneakers that were not just functional but fashionable as well. They featured bright colors, prints and patterns. They had innovative fixing systems beyond shoelaces, like Velcro straps.
As shoe design and construction technology improved and more research emerged on foot and ankle biomechanics, footwear became more and more complex. The following features became standard in sneakers from many brands:
- Toe protection
- Collar and tongue padding
- Arch support
- Gel and air cushioning
- Cushioned midsoles
- Heel counters
At this point in the timeline of shoes, the focus was on:
- Making footwear more comfortable
- Making walking and running more efficient
- Providing the ankles with stability
However, recent research suggests that wearing these feature-packed modern shoes too often can do more harm than good.
When Simpler Is Better
A growing body of research suggests that wearing shoes negatively impacts human beings' natural gait. One example is a study published in Nature that examined toe springs' effect on walking biomechanics.
A toe spring is a curve found in the toes of most shoes, especially sneakers. This feature is intended to make walking easier. However, wearing shoes with toe springs have the foot muscles do less work over time. This can weaken the toe muscles and increase the risk of developing plantar fasciitis, a painful condition that affects one in 10 people. It is one of the most common causes of heel pain.
Another study, published in the podiatry journal The Foot, found that the Zulu population, who frequently goes barefoot, had healthier feet than Europeans, who regularly wear shoes.
Modern footwear, especially sneakers with features like cushioning, toe springs and stiff heels, prevent the feet from flexing and the toes from spreading. Excessive cushioning keeps you from landing on your forefoot like you would if you were barefoot. Instead, it encourages you to strike with your heels. Research shows that heel strikers are more prone to injury than forefoot strikers.
Because of concerns regarding the impact of modern footwear on foot health, many people are going back to basics and adopting a less-is-more attitude when it comes to shoes.
Going Back to Basics (and Full Circle) With Barefoot Shoes
Barefoot or minimalist shoes are footwear with a thin and flexible sole. They are designed to allow the foot to function as naturally as possible. They have a wide toe box to give the toes room to spread and zero heel-to-toe drop, meaning there is no height difference between the toe and the heel.
Barefoot shoes don't have the bells and whistles of conventional sneakers, like cushioning or rigid heels. Instead, they're designed to enable foot movement and allow the wearer to feel the ground.
These shoes have more in common with the sandals worn by early humans and ancient Romans than modern sneakers. Many minimalist or barefoot shoes are made from natural materials like leather and cotton. Modern barefoot shoes are much more lightweight, comfortable and stylish!
Discover Fashionable Minimalist Footwear at Origo Shoes
Footwear by Origo Shoes is designed according to barefoot shoe principles. Each shoe in our collection supports your natural gait and provides your feet the freedom to move.
We use natural, ethically sourced materials such as cotton canvas and vegan cactus leather to make our minimalist shoes. Our collection includes styles for men, women and children, such as:
Shop our collection today!