Shoes and Art: 6 Cultures, Craftspeople, and Creators

Explore the evolution of shoes from ancient cultures to modern designers

By Google Arts & Culture

With content from Scottish Ballet, the Van Gogh Museum, and more

Installation view, Givenchy Room (From 1973 to 1988 and again since 2001 actually in production.) by Hubert de Givenchy, Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald, Riccardo TisciMuseo della Calzatura di Villa Foscarini Rossi

High Heels

High-heeled shoes epitomize high-fashion footwear in today’s society, but they were not always worn as a fashion statement.

The first evidence of heels appears roughly 1,000 years ago, though they were actually riding boots!

Recueil des modes de la cour de France, 'Homme de Qualité en Surtout' (1684) by Jean Dieu de Saint-JeanLos Angeles County Museum of Art

Modern high heels didn’t appear in Europe until men began wearing them in the 17th century, when the height of the heel was an indication of social status.

Now, there are elegant heel options for anyone who wants them, from cowboy boots to bespoke stilettos.

Italian legend Salvatore Ferragamo invented the steel arch, which allowed the thin, knife-like heels of stilettos to support the wearer. Explore the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo using Street View.

A Pair of Leather Clogs (March 1888 - 1888) by Vincent van GoghVan Gogh Museum


Cultures around the world have crafted clogs for centuries, both for form and function. The varieties include wooden-soled sandals and complete shoes hewn from a single piece of wood.

Although you may associate clogs with Dutch folk-dancing, there are many other types.

Clogs (1801/1900)Ewha Womans University Museum


These Korean clogs, or namaksin, are a form of traditional footwear worn since the Three Kingdoms Period, approximately 57 BCE – 668 CE.

The upward-curving toes allow one’s foot to roll forward while walking, a technique seen in closed-toe clogs from around the world.

Japanese Geta, Ethnic footwear (19th century)Museo della Calzatura di Villa Foscarini Rossi


Japanese geta, a type of wood-soled sandal, are another example of clogs, although with a style and sensibility all their own. Their popularity continues today, with variations produced globally.

This dragon-engraved pair has soles made from balsa wood.

Pair of clogs for a courtesan (nimaiba geta) (Meiji period, Late 19th century)Peabody Essex Museum

Courtesans of the Edo period in Japan wore tall geta like these. The wearer’s rank was signified by distinctions like height and number of teeth.

This tall pair, from the subsequent Meiji period, is known as nimaiba, or ‘double blade’.

Patiala Jutti (2018-02-21)Dastkari Haat Samiti


The jutti is a type of slip-on shoe which originated in North India almost 500 years ago.

They are traditionally crafted from leather, often with elaborately embroidered embellishments.

Patiala Jutti: In-house workshops (2018-02-21)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Juttis are still manufactured with traditional techniques by craftspeople in Patiala, a city in the Indian state of Punjab.

Many workshops specialize in making one part of the shoe, and the customary family production continues in households around the city.

“JS Wings 3.0” High-top Sneaker (2014/2015) by Jeremy Scott for AdidasLos Angeles County Museum of Art


Harkening Hermes, these sneakers by designer Jeremy Scott exemplify the bold fashion statements made by sneakerheads around the world. This pair of Adidas JS Wings is the third iteration of Scott’s now-famous shoe.

Sneakers, while one of the more recent developments in footwear, have become a worldwide phenomenon. Craftspeople and designers around the globe contribute unique and striking designs to the subculture. 

Video of Wanjiru Muriu-Anami creating the Modo sneaker by Wanjiru Muriu-AnamiOriginal Source: Jiru

Watch Kenyan designer Wanjiru Muriu-Anami create her shoes in this video.

Pointe Shoe Preparation (2015) by Christina RileyScottish Ballet

Pointe Shoes

Ballerinas’ shoes are vital tools of their trade, and the artistry poured into each pair is proof. Many ballet dancers prepare their own slippers, attaching ribbons and elastic bands to ensure a customized and comfortable fit.

Scroll to watch Dutch ballerina Igone de Jongh talk about the importance of ballet shoes and guide us through her process.

Pointe shoesDutch National Opera & Ballet

Ancient Roman footwear, Ethnic footwear (Between the Repubblic and the Imperial Roman period)Museo della Calzatura di Villa Foscarini Rossi

For more footwear from far and wide, check out Walking the World: 9 Spectacular Shoes.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps