The Craft of Shoe Making

Subject: Sociology
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 12
Word count: 3193
Topics: Social Issues, Clothing, Fashion, The Great Depression


Shoe making as a craft is such a widely discussed debate with equal body of research focusing on identifying how this art has changed with time. Throughout history, the making of shoes has been attributed to many years ago when man started to evolve and learned the necessity for protection and comfort. In this paper, the evolution of shoes has been presented. For one, the paper begins from a simple exploration of the emergence of shoes. Specifically, shoes were in the earliest times made from wood, hides and leaves. In this case, the craft was only limited to using hands and human labor. However, with time, all changed as humanity learned the essence of making the shoes appear to have particular designs whereby the earliest designs focused on the toes. Successive progression saw more developments whereby shoes were made to ensure comfort. In this case, the paper argues that this presentation of the earliest forms of shoe craftsmanship is a show of how arts represent the society. The middle ages saw more developments and advancements in shoe making as the paper finds out that emphasis now shifted towards protection of the entire legs to the ankles. From these earlier designs, shoe making would be improved through mechanization whereby automation led to the development of more designs, and separation of both male and female shoes. The 20th Century was a major stride in the history of shoe making with more sophisticated designs for females and how society, through artists and reputable social figures contributed to the development of shoes. Finally, 21st Century has been characterized by mass production and as such, the focus on beauty and not the initial functionality as was the case in the earliest years of should development. 


Shoemaking is a craft and one of the areas of arts involved in making footwear. Most of the shoes worn in the modern day originated from the hand work but the traditional shoe making has now been submerged to the areas of large production of shoes all focusing or showing the detailed craftsmanship from which they were developed or originated (Chapman, 2001).  The evolution of making shoes has been discussed from the perspective of the historical development, beginning from the archeological periods. Currently, historical records indicate that the development of shoes began with the rudimental methods used in developing shoes specifically to protect humanity from injury, warm, cold and as such, provide the much-needed comfort (Morrison and Bond, 2015). Therefore, in the earliest times, the craft of shoe making focused on the functionality of shoes. Shoes would be made from simple materials like hides and woods. However, with the industrialization and modernization, shoe making as a craft has become more complex and has shifted from the concern on comfort and functionality to emphasize the importance of aesthetics and fashion. The industrialization period witnessed most of the handcraft functions in shoe making abolished since most of the production activities were mechanized. Towards the mid and late 20th Century, shoe making has been confined to style, aesthetics and fashion (Chapman, 2001). The craft has been subject to changes and transformations in fashion with the shoe makers keeping up with the social trends. The subsequent discussion concurs that shoe making has evolved from the rudimental approach of making shoes to the current era of technology that has led to mechanization of shoes whereby the emphasis is on aesthetics and function and not the traditional role of functionality and the provision of comfort. 

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Evolution of shoe making (craft)

Shoes have been part of the history of mankind and as such, considered to be as older as history. In history, the earliest records of humanity have been characterized by various mentions of shoes. Although shoes have a common basic characteristic shared in all of them, the materials, coloring as well as designs have evolved over the years and this provides a fascinating aspect of the footwear. The history of shoes has been researched with both paleoarcheological and archeological evidence estimating that shoes had been invented at around 40, 000 years ago, in the Middle Paleolithic periods (Chapman, 2001). However, the upper Paleolithic period marked a beginning or advancement in footwear as shoes became consistently worn by most populations. From the earliest evidence, the prototypes of the earliest shoes were considered to be very soft and as such, simply made from leather, resembling moccasins or sandals (Commons, 1909). From the earliest designs, shoe making has evolved to become the modern sophisticated styles. 

Early shoes (archeological shoes)

Shoes were regarded as vital for function, protection and to a greater extent, fashion that Unwin (2013) argues as a representation of the people, time and the historical or the social context. Records indicate that shoes existed as early as 1000 and 700 BC and as such, shoes were in the form of sandals all created specifically for the early man to allow humans to walk through the jagged rocks, dense jungle as well as avoid other hazardous injuries. Shoe making in the earliest times was simple and this craft entailed making shoes primarily from leaves, barks, and rawhide. In this case, the first shoes had been categorized into two classes; the moccasins and sandals. During this craftsmanship, the shoes were basically made from simple soles that were simply strapped into foots. For the sandals, they were meant for the warmer regions for shielding the foot while moccasins were focused on providing protection for cold weather. In this case, it is evident that during the earliest times, shoe making as craft was only focused on providing protection rather than fashion. The approach to making shoes in this era conform to what Alexander (1977) suggest as the role of architecture since it shows the history, time and space of the particular period.  The craft involved the use of tanned animal hides whereby the primitive shoemakers punched holes around the shoes, in a circumference then wove vines through these holes and enclosing the foot, for adding protection and warmth. 

As history progressed, there were many changes in the shoemaking craft or art. The function evolved to put into considerations like protection, function as well as fashion. The evolution replicates the how dwellings and environments were presented through the works of designs of craft (Seamon & Mugerauer, 2012). For instance, during the medieval times, the shoe making craft was done with the consideration of taking care of the large toes as men’s toes began growing longer and pointed.  On the other hand, reverse was the case for women, as they would wear ankle shoes and this also meant a change in the making of shoes. As Norberg-Schulz (1980) argues, the shoe designs pointed to the societal conformity to gender roles. The design of shoes changed with time, especially during the middle ages as shoes would be morphed or developed into squares and round toe shapes while at the same time, the soles became much wider. The late 1500s saw some significant change in the shoe making craft, especially with the shoemakers beginning to incorporate high heels for women’s shoes as well as adding more function for men. For instance, the dainty style during the emergence of the Oxford boots and as they were worn by students during this period, saw a change in shoe making as the emphasis or focus centered on toes (Chapman, 2001). 

The evolution of the society saw a change from the focus on protection as society started regarding shoes as playing important or vital role in ceremony and costume. Architecture, according to Alexander (1977), is a way of understanding and presenting some of the evolutions that have occurred in the society. Through architectural designs, it is possible to engage with and understand what transpired during the particular point in history. In return, shoe making changed to focus more on lavish designs but these would be occasionally used (Commons, 1909). Therefore, the evolution of the society meant a change in shoe making craft as elements like function and comfort was never an emphasis anymore. The middle ages witness some important changes in shoe making, especially the Crackbow shoe making era that made walking difficult and also dangerous (Commons, 1909). The middle ages was not so much advanced in terms of shoe making because most of the shoes of humanity were rather identical in nature, with the right and left being identical. Records also indicate that the periods of 14th C BC and mid 1800s in Egypt marked was marked by shoes being the same manner, the hammer and lapstone (Blewett, 1983). Historical architecture have helped in understanding the vital elements of society lie craft and other artistic works that developed with time and how they incorporated important or vital constructs within the society (Norberg-Schulz, 1980).  In the early Baroque period in Europe for instance, men’s and women shoes made in a similar manner although shoe making focused on different materials and functions depending on the social class (Blewett, 1983). For instance, heavy black leather heels became a major or common norm with the common folks while for aristocrats, shoes were made or crafted out of wood. 

Shoe making in the earliest eras focused on handcraft and as such, would be limited to the use of manual methods that were rather time consuming (Blewett, 1983). Traditionally, the shoemakers had used different techniques. Architecture is a collection of techniques and through this, one gets to understand the unique elements and features that were specifically used during a particular period in history (Unwin, 2013). Earliest shoe making was focused on different techniques and methods. Just to mention, some of the techniques had been restricted to such methods as pegged construction, stitch-down, Bolognese, German sewn and blake-stitched. Sandal was the most basic during the Mediterranean area, a shoe making technique mainly focused on developing a protective sole and attaching it to the foot using leather thongs (Blewett, 1983). In the Far East, shoes would be made from plaited grass, or some made from the palm fronds. 

The early times in shoemaking was characterized by greater production of wooden shoes and as such, became the major technique in during the medieval eras in Europe. Again, the use of this style conform to what Norberg-Schulz (1980) agrees as the role of architecture; painting a clear picture of what designs were in use during the particular period. Some of the varieties of the wooden shoes were made from clog as wooden soles with leather attached to the upper side. The clogs were mainly meant to provide greater advantage to workers especially those working in damp and muddy conditions as the design was focused on making the feet comfortable and keeping it dry. The 1600s also marked some advancement in shoe making, especially with the development of turn shoes (Commons, 1909). The method was specially focused on making slippers as well as similar shoes. 

Nonetheless, for many centuries, those accredited to shoe making or the early shoemakers did keep the secret in the manner in which they would measure the client’s feet as this was meant to help in assuring their continued business, a concept that has been maintained in the modern world (Chapman, 2001). According, Alexander (1977) asserts that architecture reflects people and place. From the earliest approaches to making shoes, all were focused on the conservative nature of the generation whereby businesses valued the continuity of their existence. However, progressive years saw many and significant changes in shoe making, especially with the invention of sewing machines.  The 1800s was characterized by many other changes, especially with many machines being developed and by 1875, manufacturing change the shoe making craft, especially with Charles Goodyear Jr. developing a machine for making shoes using rubber (Blewett, 1983).

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Shoes in the 1800s

The early 1800s showed the beginning in the differentiation of men’s and women’s shoes because the shoes began differing in their making from the toe shape, heel, color and style (Blewett, 1983). The shoe making as a craft during this era was majorly focused on the development of cloth-topped shoes with boots equally becoming population. Until 1850s, the making of shoes concentrated on straight designs but later improvements would be made or realized in the 20th Century as shoe makers especially with the shoe designs meant to improve comfort through the development of foot-specific shoes (Commons, 1909). The shoe designs during this era also confirm the proposition that architectural design is a replica or a reflection of the societal norms and beliefs (Alexander, 1977). 

However, modern technology changed shoe making. Technology brought about automation that changed shoe making forever (Chapman, 2001).  For instance, shoe making changed from the initial ribbon-tied shoes to the use of buckles. On the other hand, automation capabilities brought about by technology led to the development of automated shoemaking machines as a breakthrough to what cobblers had been struggling to develop for many years. The rolling machine changed the shoe making craft as the machine made it possible to compound leather for making long-lasting soles. Automation also led to a switch from hand stitching to automatic sewing. For this sense, Norberg-Schulz (1980) would argue that shoes in this era represented the time and space of technology and rapid mechanization 

However, shoe making changed drastically in the 20th C and this would be recorded in every decade. The implication is that availability of technologies led to the simplification of the shoe making process. A particular period that marked some unique craftsmanship or design of shoes was during the Great Depression period where black and brown shoe designs became common. The shoes made in this period are a reflection and reminder of the Great Depression years. In this case, the designs are what Seamon and Mugerauer (2012) recommend as the role of architecture in history and accurate records of the society. The shoe making of men remained considerately unchanged for many years after the WWII but for women, more designs were introduced with major alterations in appearance (Chapman, 2001). For the women’s shoes, the designs focused more on arching and sophistication all meant or focused on highlighting the foot. As decades progressed, more delicate heels would be developed and this showed how the shoe making was advancing with technology and societal changes. 

Shoes in the 20th C

The presence of females in the workplaces also meant major changes in shoe making, especially during the 20th C when the design for the shoe heels changed significantly.  For instance, the early 1970s was marked by wedged and platform shoes but this style in shoe making diminished as the years progressed (Chapman, 2001). However, for the men’s shoes, they had been marked as static, more so with loafers and oxfords remaining as dominant. 

In the modern world, shoe making has changed drastically, and the shoe makers have shoes for every occasion, preference and mood. On the other hand, the shoe making as craft has shifted from the original emphasis on function and comfort and as such, designers are more concerned with aesthetics rather than the practically ascribed to shoe making. Shoe making in the modern world is a matter of societal and generational influence as shoe makers are following the designs and preferences of celebrities but making of shoe has been automated. Therefore, from the medieval handicraft, shoe making has evolved to become an automated craft. 

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21st C shoes


The development and evolution of shoe making has been marked by some hard evidence indicating or confirming some of the eras and periods from which shoes were made and how they developed to become the modern slick and unique styles. For instance, boots became popular in the 19th Century and from this style, the shoes were made to cover the entire ankle. Clogs also came with the developments in the shoemaking craft, basically developed from thick wood, some cork soles and they were backless (Chapman, 2001). The shoe type originated from the medieval Europe, rural regions, in the 1300s. The shoes were then preceded by the lace-ups, especially the traditional Oxford shoes and have become common in sports, more so the sport shoes (Commons, 1909). Other shoes like monks were also developed during the evolution of shoes, while mules equally became common and significant in the history of shoe making and development, as backless shoes. Shoes have evolved to include the elegantly made modern high heels, unique official shoes for men all highlighting how humanity has kept up with the high pace in the production of and design of shoes (Morrison and Bond, 2015). 

Major contributors

Marc Brunel contributed towards the earliest shoe making craft through the introduction of mechanization approach to shoe making (Chapman, 2001). His contribution would be marked by the mass production of shoes meant for soldier, the British army.  Brunel also made outstanding contribution by devising a scheme for nail-boot-making and this contributed to the automation of shoe craft as this made it easier to fasten soles and making them appear as nails or metallic pins. In addition, Richard Woodman made an outstanding contribution to the shoe making craft by patenting staples and screws (Commons, 1909). The Crimean War also led to some renewed interests in mechanization as well as mass-production of shoes.  Tomas Crick remains as a shoe maker who led to the invention of the riveting machine, that would use iron plate in pushing iron rivets into the soles of shoes (1853). From this contribution, the process of production was improved and efficiency enhanced. On the hand, Crick’s contribution led to the introduction of steam-powered rolling-machines and as such, the invention led to improved hardening of leather. McKay also introduced the stitching machine that later became popular but these earlier innovations would be strengthened with precedent developments for finishing and pegging as these functions became automated but by 1890s, the mechanization of shoe making as a craft was fully implemented (Commons, 1909). 


In summary, shoe making as a craft has evolved from the earliest period when humanity depended on handcraft as the only means of making appropriate shoes for wear. However, through the evolution, shoes have reflected the time and space of the particular periods. In this case, the evolution conforms what literature evidence asserts as the role and importance of architectural designs like craft. Simply put, the earliest forms of shoe making portrayed the conservative nature of the humankind as well as the limited attachment to material values. In retrospect, earliest designs of shoes were mainly focused on functionality and how the shoes would provide comfort. However, with advancements and technology, there was a shift in this approach as shoe making become more modernized and mechanized. The period would be characterized with shoes produced and designed to meet the job needs especially in the industrialization period. All has changed with the advent of technology. Many of the shoe makers or designers are now focusing much on the aesthetic value and fashion. Making of shoes is now an art that reflect the society and how people prefer designs and fashion. More so, shoe making is determined by artists and social figures and this shows a shift from the initial role of functioning as a protection and provision of comfort. 

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  1. Alexander, C. 1977. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. Oxford University Press.
  2. Blewett, M.H., 1983. Work, Gender and the Artisan Tradition in New England Shoemaking, 1780-1860. Journal of Social History, 17(2), pp.221-248. 
  3. Chapman, A.A., 2001. Whose Saint Crispin’s Day Is It?: Shoemaking, Holiday Making, and the Politics of Memory in Early Modern England. Renaissance Quarterly, 54(4, Part 2), pp.1467-1494.
  4. Commons, J.R., 1909. American Shoemakers, 1648–1895 A Sketch of Industrial Evolution. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 24(1), pp.39-84. 
  5. Morrison, K.A. and Bond, A., 2015. Built to Last?: The Buildings of the Northamptonshire Boot and Shoe Industry. The History Press.
  6. Norberg-Schulz, C. 1980. Genius Loci towards a Phenomenolgy of Architecture. Rizzoli. 
  7. Seamon, D. & Mugerauer, R. 2012. Dwelling, Place and Environment: Towards a Phenomenology of Person and World. Springer Science & Business Media. 
  8. Unwin, S. 2013. Analysing Architecture. London, Routledge. 
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