On the Pointlessness of Pointy Footwear

Nor could one easily kneel or pray in what were sometimes known as “Satan’s clutches.” In 1215, Pope Innocent III banned it. Clergymen, among other things, wear “shoes with embroidery or pointy toes”. The edict was so unsuccessful that Pope Urban V tried again in 1362.

Poulaines swept to England in the 14th century, supposedly at the feet of Anne of Böhmen, the 16-year-old bride of 15-year-old Richard II, but maybe even a little earlier. (Poulaines, a French term, refers to Poland; the shoes were sometimes called Krakow, after the Polish capital.) In Dr. Dittmar’s study, the bunions were more common in wealthy individuals, but they even occurred in skeletons from a charitable hospital. “It seems that these types of shoes are pretty popular with everyone,” she said. Poulaines disappeared sometime after 1465 when Edward IV banned any shoe longer than two inches from England.

It was neither the first nor the last time that people have forced their bodies to conform to fashion; Foot binding began in China in the 10th century and lasted a millennium, overtaking the Victorian corset. No doubt future paleopathologists, smarter and barefoot, will scoff at the many ways – earth shoes, cowboy boots, Air Jordans, brogues, chukkas, Uggs – we have found to sell our soles to the devil.

“It is certainly something,” said Dr. Dittmar. During the pandemic lockdown, she wore her running sneakers to the lab, most of which she has to herself, and isn’t particularly excited about what’s next: “Every time you go to a conference and put on your high heels, think I, this is so bad, why are we doing this? But it’s fashion, isn’t it? “

Recognition…Tony Cenicola / The New York Times

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