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Why Were Medieval Europeans So Obsessed With Long, Pointy Shoes?

The fashion trend of long, pointy shoes arose around the year 1340 in Krakow, Poland. It spread slowly but surely across Europe, and as with many fashion trends, eventually grew to ridiculous lengths. These shoes, mostly worn by men, were called crakows or poulaines. And the longer the toe, the more status was indicated in the wearer.

For the glitterati of medieval Europe, poulaines were less a fad than a symbol. “If you were a man of status and you had enough wealth, you wanted to show that off,” Shawcross says. “And to do that, you had to take the toe to the extreme.” Shoes with absurdly long toes were expensive and would clearly impair the wearer from efficiently partaking in any kind of physical labor. So they were also an indicator of leisure and luxury, free of extraneous effort or the tyranny of practicality.

But they were also silly, ostentatious, and sometimes dangerous. As you can see in the picture above, even servants were sometimes obliged to wear poulaines, which no doubt interfered with their duties, but made their boss look trendy. It got to the point (ha) that the king of England banned shoes that extended more than two inches past the toe in 1463. Read about the pointy shoe fad at Atlas Obscura.

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