Made for walking: Highlands Museum offers shoe exhibit

May 4—ASHLAND — Feet are our foundation and shoes provide their protection.

In a tribute to the hard-working shoe, the exhibit titled "Best Foot Forward: A Footwear History" examines the evolution of shoes, curator Heather Whitman said.

"With examples from the 1860s to the 1990s, this exhibit features slippers, heels, flats, boots and much more," Whitman said.

The exhibit includes historical information, including facts like:

* The oldest pair of shoes found date to about 9,000 years ago. These were excavated in 1938 from Fort Rock Cave in Oregon. Other shoes like these were found in the area. All are made of sagebrush bark.

* In Ancient Egypt, sandals were commonly worn as they kept the feet cool but still protected them from rocks and warm sand.

* Shoes became a fashion item in the Middle Ages with the arrival of the Poulaine. This was a shoe with a pointed toe made of expensive materials. High heels also became fashionable during this time period.

* During the mid- and late 1800s, shoemaking moved to a factory setting, as opposed to a by-hand construction. Stitchless shoes appeared in 1910.

Shoe fashion evolved alongside clothing styles. Whitman said as hemlines rose, the look of shoes changed.

While shoe factories existed in the 1800s, cobblers still made shoes, too. Boots were popular for men and women, and middle to lower-class women wore everyday boots under their dresses.

The 1920s brought many changes, with the shortest hemlines in history, putting the focus on shoes. The Charleston was a popular dance that required good-fitting shoes, so straps were born. Pumps with a 2-inch heel also were in style and many were fashioned after a "colonial" look with a decorative tongue or buckle on the center. Canvas tennis shoes appeared for the first time in this decade; women wore them for sport activities, although some liked to wear them for casual outdoor events. Sizing shoes began in the 1920s, as well.

Whitman said the style of shoes were influenced by the excitement of the Golden Age of Hollywood as well as the tension of the Great Depression and World War II.

Styles and types of materials would multiply, especially in the 1960s, when styles moved to the more comfortable and casual. The counterculture influence was evident into the 1970s, with men wearing brighter colors and more avant-garde styles.

The exhibit, on the main floor, will continue through August.

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