While in Toronto, I finally went to the Bata museum, thanks to a note from writer Susan Holloway Scott about a special exhibit: “On a Pedestal: From Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels.”

What took me so long? This is a wonderful museum?and this exhibit was fantastic. I had no idea!

While there, I bought the book by curator Elizabeth Semmelhack about the exhibit ? it’s full of historical detail.

I took a pile of notes. Here are some of the things that struck me.

Slap-soled shoes (shown at left): so named because they make a slapping sound (although I don’t quite get that). The flat base was created to keep pointed heels from sinking into the mud.

The more impractical something was, the higher the class: for example, shoes of white kid were fashionable because they were so easily soiled they implied a life of leisure.

Chopines (as seen on the book cover above, and which could rise to truly dangerous heights) signified wealth because of the added cost of the expensive material required for the gown to reach the floor. They were especially popular in Spain and Italy, where they were worn by wealthy married women.

Curiously, at an earlier period in Italy, law required that prostitutes wear chopines. This Bertelli print of about 1588 shows a “cortesan.” A flap comes up to reveal her pantalons and chopines. (I was surprised to see pantalons at all: generally, women wore nothing under their skirts.)

The late 17th century saw a shift toward lower heels. In France, low-platform mules were worn by both men and women “around the house” (read: castle).

The mules for women were little jewels, gorgeously embroidered and embellished, with pointed toes and slender heels.

I appreciated seeing the famed red-painted heels of the aristocratic male of that period. It’s likely that the paint has faded, but the color looks more like a rich mahogany stain applied to the stacked leather heels. Men’s wear tended to have an equestrian function: sturdy, heeled, with broad square toes.

The Sun King, of course ? who was passionate about shoes, among other things ? wore pretty mules with bright red heels.

For more on this wonderful exhibit, see these links: 

On a Pedestal – Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels – Exhibition Review  

On a Pedestal Exhibition 

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