On the Pointlessness of Pointy Shoes


One also could not easily kneel, or pray, in such shoes, which were sometimes known as “Satan’s claws.” In 1215, Pope Innocent III prohibited clergy members from wearing, among other things, “shoes with embroidery or pointed toes.” The edict was unsuccessful enough that Pope Urban V tried again in 1362.

Poulaines swept into England in the 14th century, ostensibly on the feet of Anne of Bohemia, the 16-year-old bride to the 15-year-old Richard II, but perhaps even slightly earlier. (Poulaines, a French term, refers to Poland; the shoes were also sometimes called crakows, after the Polish capital.) In Dr. Dittmar’s study, the bunions were more common on wealthy individuals, but they appeared even on skeletons from a charitable hospital. “It does seem that these types of shoes became fairly popular with everyone,” she said. Poulaines tapered off the scene sometime after 1465, when Edward IV banned from England any shoe with a toe more than two inches long.

It was neither the first nor last time that humans have forced their bodies to fit the vogue; foot-binding began in China in the 10th century and lasted a millennium, overtaking the Victorian corset. No doubt future paleopathologists, wiser and barefoot, will scoff at the many ways — earth shoes, cowboy boots, Air Jordans, brogues, Chukkas, Uggs — we’ve found to sell our soles to the devil.

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

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

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