Wooden shoes are often associated with Medieval Dutch culture, but this footwear was worn in many parts of Europe starting in the 12th century; it was used in parts of Asia before that. Over the years, the wooden shoe has retained its simple character, and is still employed today by Dutch farmers and gardeners and by Japanese geishas.
The sabot, a shoe made with a single, rough-cut piece of wood, was the dominant footwear of European peasants around the 12th century. In the Netherlands, the "sabot" took the form of a clog, or a shoe with a wooden bottom and a fabric covering. These early wooden shoes were a transition from the single piece of untanned leather tied around the foot with a leather thong, which was commonly used before.
The Museum of Metropolitan Art exhibits the Japanese hanging scroll, "Su Dongpo in Straw Hat and Wooden Shoes," dated to the period between 1392 and 1573. It celebrates the life of a famous Chinese scholar who lived in the 11th century and at one point was forced to borrow a peasant's wooden shoes.This is not believed to be the first reference to wooden shoes in China, but just how long they've been in use in Asia is up for debate. Westerners may be more familiar with the geta worn by geishas--a wooden sandal with a separate heel making a distinctive "clack clack" sound when the wearer walks. Geishas and their traditional clothing originated in the 1800s.
Wooden shoes were a step up from the simple pieces of untanned leather used for footwear because they were waterproof, durable and offered protection against weather and work hazards. Farmers in particular found them useful in wet, muddy fields and as a guard against kicking cows and falling metal tools. This was especially important at a time when medical care was either unavailable or did little good in fighting infections and repairing injuries.
Dutch wooden shoes were known for their elaborate decorations. Just as today, shoes back then could be either entirely utilitarian or a statement of fashion and beauty. Dutch wooden shoes were known for their artistic paintings and carvings, and every region had its own distinctive decorative style.
Wooden Shoes Today
Wooden shoes are being made and used even today. Geishas still wear them as a part of traditional dress, and Dutch farmers and gardeners still use them in the fields. Holland is also home to many tourist shops displaying the artisan craft.
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