When Neil Armstrong made the first human footprint on the moon in 1969, his feet were encased in vacuum-bottle-like boots. The inside of his boots had layers of rubber-coated nylon, aluminized material, and a special low-heat-conducting fabric. The boots’ blue and white outer shell was fire and abrasion resistant, and they wrapped snugly around Armstrong’s ankles. Those first boots to walk on the moon were left there, along with the footprints that still remain on its windless surface.

Astronaut Armstrong’s boots were unique, and there has been a lot of unusual and fascinating footwear throughout history.

Ancient cliff dwellers in Arizona tied several thicknesses of yucca leaves with corn husk linings to their feet.

Egyptian King Tutankhamen desired beauty in his footwear. His sandals were made of gold and adorned with jewels. Golden duck heads protruding from a display of gold lotus flowers were part of the royal sandals’ design.

Many of King Tutankhamen’s subjects wore sandals with pictures on their soles, just like shoes worn by some children today. Instead of using pictures of their favorite things, however, the Egyptians decorated their sandal soles with pictures of people they didn’t like so that they could crush their enemy’s likeness with every step they took! The Hebrews, on the other hand, considered it a compliment to have a sweetheart’s picture etched into the metal soles of their shoes. With each step they took, a symbol of their love was imprinted in the dirt for all the world to see.

Pointy-toed footwear, or crakows, came into fashion sometime in the eleventh century. Some folks thought then that if they wore crakows, witches would have no power over them. Others wore them as status symbols. Eventually a law was enacted that permitted a commoner’s shoes to extend no more that one-half foot (15 cm) past the end of his big toe. A gentleman’s shoe could be one foot (30 cm) longer than his foot, and the nobility could wear shoes two feet (60 cm) longer than their own feet! Toes of such shoes were stuffed with moss, hay, or wool and often had to be tied up to the wearer’s knee bands with small chains. Of course, these strange shoes were very hard to walk in, so servants did much of the work for the nobility.

Before the days of sidewalks, gutters, and sewers, walking through filth was a constant problem. Some Europeans braved the muck and mire by wearing wooden shoes. Often these shoes were equipped with iron rings that the wearer pulled to extricate his feet from the mud.

In other places platform shoes kept the wearer’s feet above the mud and snow. In time platform shoes were also used in the belief that they gave the wearer added importance by making him appear taller and more imposing. At his coronation in 1926, Emperor Hirohito of Japan wore getas (wooden clogs) twelve inches (30 cm) tall.

Greek actors used tall shoes for yet another purpose. They used the thick soles to hide clickers and bellows that made music with every step. Imagine wearing shoes that sing!

For almost eight hundred years the Chinese felt that small feet made a lady lovelier. They were a young girl’s fortune, assuring her a good marriage and an opportunity to move up socially. A young Chinese woman of marriageable age might wear beautifully embroidered silk boots, with delicate arches, only four inches (10 cm) long and two inches (5 cm) wide! By a process of binding and even breaking the bones of a young child’s feet, it was possible to keep the child’s feet small for wearing the beautiful tiny silk boots. Many of the dainty-footed maidens had to have servants wait on them because they were crippled for life. Happily, the practice of foot binding was discontinued in the early 1900s.

Ornate sandals made of gold and encrusted with jewels, platform shoes twelve inches (30 cm) high, and pointy crakows are no longer popular. Most shoes today seem to emphasize comfort and utility more than fancy design.

Illustrated by Richard Hull