Why Medieval Nobles Wore Shoes with Foot-Long Toes

Source: Wikimedia

Consider that you are walking into your grandmother’s attic, which has not been opened up for a while and you find a dusty trunk. In the middle of dusty lace doilies and old black and white photos, there is a strange pair of shoes with very pointed toes extended further than they should be. Your grandmother smiles and tells you they were not for some fairy tale outfit, but were indeed a style that was popular a few centuries back. These shoes are poulaines, an interesting piece of medieval footwear, to say the least.

Crakows or poulaines as they were called were a type of shoes that were in fashion in the later middle ages, specifically in the 14th and 15th centuries. They were most of the time characterized by pointed shoes with very long toes which may not be very feasible today but was a sign of affluence during that period. The length of the toe of the shoe was another sign of the rank of the wearer, the longer the toe the higher the rank.

Source: Wikimedia

These shoes were not only meant for attracting attention in the midst of a large number of people; they indicated status. Because poulaines were made from fine leather and sometimes even had unique embellishments, they were symbols of skill and wealth of their owners. These pointed shoes were elongated to make the nobles and wealthy merchants move about in them, this was an obvious sign of their status in the society.

Thus, the cultural aspect of poulaines goes beyond their rather unusual shape and design. Fashion in the medieval times was an essential way of defining one’s identity as well as one’s status. The length of the poulaine’s toe pointed towards the status of an individual in the society. The most opulent of these shoes could even reach a length of over a foot, so long that they had to be fastened to the leg of the wearer or filed with moss to prevent them from folding.

This trend, which may seem rather absurd, tells a lot about the society’s preferences of the period. It was a period when show of affluence and authority was quite apparent and each edge of a shoe’s pointed tip represented dominance. It was also rather impractical, and this further pointed to the wearer’s lack of need for manual work, thus cementing their status.

Source: Reddit

Like most trends in fashion, the use of the poulaine also went out of fashion in due course. Realism prevailed and so the norms of the society changed. By the late 15th century the exaggerated points were no longer fashionable and gradually ceased to be used. In some regions, sumptuary laws were passed banning the tips of shoes, in an effort to check on the extravagance and retrieve morality.

But, one can’t deny the fact that the poulaine’s story is an interesting one and forms a part of the fashion history. This takes one back to an era where apparels and accessories were used not only for covering the body parts or beautification but for expressing the social status and shaping the norms.

Source: Wikimedia

Reflecting on the period of the poulaine, it is hard not to chuckle at the efforts people took to stand out, quite literally. It is a reflection of man’s continued need to be different, to be noticed and to be remembered. Perhaps there is a part of that middle ages fashion in today’s clothing, a way of acknowledging the history and trying to carve our own path in this world.

Thus, the next time you encounter an interesting fashion style, think of the poulaine and the history behind the long, pointed shoes. They are a pleasant reminder of how diverse the human race is and how our fashion has continued to develop over the years.