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Shoes: a history from sandals to sneakers

Giorgio Riello|, Peter McNeil (eds)
Berg Publishers (September 2006)

A recent survey in Grazia magazine revealed that, on average, women spend a massive £79,000 on shoes in a lifetime with one in three women spending over £150,000. So, what is it about footwear that is so compelling and why do we wear the shoes we do? To find out, look no further than Shoes: a history from sandals to sneakers, a captivating new book that is as irresistible as it is informative.

Shoes are much more than just things to walk in - they are objects of power. From kids on the block to models on the catwalk, our shoes reveal to the world how fashionable we are. And yet, beyond style, this most intimate object communicates much more...our sexual desires, aesthetic sense, social status and personality.

Taking the reader on a spellbinding journey Shoes traces the cultural significance of just about every kind of footwear imaginable and reveals how fashion, inextricably linked, has evolved over the years. What message did fifteenth and sixteenth century women convey when they stepped out in up to 20-inch tall 'chopines'? How did the dandies of the eighteenth century make men's shoes beautiful? What is it about the wearing of red shoes that is so controversial? And how has the high heel found itself at one time or another symbolising wealth, political privilege, female frivolity, femininity, eroticism, economic folly and 'Girl Power'? Travel further, beyond the object itself, to find out how shoes have been represented in art, fairytales and, of course, fashion - from the first shoe stylists to the emergence of the now-global Made in Italy brand, to the hype surrounding the modern-day shoe-designers such as Blahnik and Louboutin.

A highly-visual and fascinating read, this book clearly demonstrates that shoes are much more than an 'accessory' - with a long and important history they have a place right at the very heart of our society. And as such, this is a book that no true shoe-aficionado can afford to be without.

  • Giorgio Riello is research officer in global history at LSE
  • Peter McNeil is professor of design history, University of Technology, Sydney.


'At last a work that deals not only with the history of footwear, but also with its cultural significance. This volume helps transform the shoe from a mundane object of everyday use into something of great social and psychological power.'
Manolo Blahnik

'If you have ever wondered why women are forever in search of, consumed by, in love with, transformed by "the perfect shoe": wonder no longer. Simply read this history of shoes. Then go out and buy some more.'
Stuart Weitzman

'...moves the shoe definitively from the margins of "accessory" to the centre of fashion. This survey of the shoe in all its aspects - historical, cultural and global - reveals footwear as a key to the vicissitudes of fashion and iconic in itself.'
Elizabeth Wilson

'A landmark publication and immensely timely for the history of dress. It provides not only a wealth of important new information about the public and private meanings of shoes but also a sharp critique of these previously neglected articles of wear.'
Margaret Maynard

'Never losing its footing in the methodological minefield that is cultural history, Shoes strides impressively towards establishing footwear as a significant commodity, metaphor, aesthetic object and signifier within a wide-range of cultural and historic contexts.'
Ulrich Lehmann

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Press cuttings

Fall's Frankenstein-esque footwear (24 July 06)
An article about footwear fashion for Autumn/Winter 2006 looks at the book Shoes: a history from sandals to sneakers, edited by Giorgio Riello and Peter McNeil. Riello, an economic historian at LSE and the author of A Foot in the Past: Consumers, Producers, and Footwear in the Long Eighteenth Century, recently returned from Italy, where he says he saw platform shoes everywhere. He notes that the style harks back to the chopine, an elevated shoe worn by European women between the 14th and 17th centuries. Rising as high as 20 inches, it was popular with Venetian women as it lifted them literally above the muck and provided greater public stature.