Already in ancient times, shoes with pointed toes have been worn in the eastern lands. In Europe, their emergence has been linked to the result of the Crusades since the 12th century. The Crusaders brought the exaggerated style with its inordinately long tip. Apparently this style was based on the raised-toe model of Syrian, Akkadian, and Hittite culture, and reflected the vertical aesthetic of Gothic Europe. However, the obsession to wear shoes with considerably extended toes and also turned upwards was quite a noticeable over the following centuries, becoming the brightest feature of the Gothic fashion during Medieval times. Such a pointed toe began to appear more often in the Western Europe at the end of the 13th century. Sources say that this fashion for pointed shoes came in western European cities from the Polish city of Krakow, so in England they called such shoes as "crakows", but in France they were named as "poulaines".
Legend Of "Poulaine"
At a time when the "poulaines" were gaining popularity in Western Europe, Poland was a part of the Kingdom of Bohemia. The proliferation of the name "crakows" was facilitated by the fact that King Richard II of England was married to Anne of Bohemia, in whose suite was a courtier who had a shoe toes that were too long. And that was a great reason for imitation. In the Gothic fashion era, the Duchy of Burgundy dictated the tone in the Western Europe. And precisely, shoes with extremely pointed toes were as vivid and extravagant as clothes of courtiers what they wore in the court of the Dukedom of Burgundy. The poulaines were made of leather, velvet, or brocade. The uppers could sport cutouts in the form of Gothic church windows, although obscene images were sometimes used.
The Shoe Length Hierarchy
Shoes with the longest points had a low instep with buckle or latchet fastenings. the toe length could exceed 10 cm, and was usually stuffed with moss or hair, having the twofold effect of keeping the toe straight and raising the end off the ground, making it easier for the wearer to walk. When people of modest means imitated eccentric fashion initially reserved for the aristocracy, the authorities responded by regulating the length of the shoe's points according to social rank: 1/2 foot for commoners, 1 foot for the bourgeois, 1 and 1/2 feet for knights, 2 feet for nobles, and 2 and 1/2 feet for princes, who had to hold the tips of their shoes up with gold or silver chains attached to their knees in order to walk. The privilege of royal families was shoes with a toe that was about 5 cm long. However, sometimes, especially in the second half of the 15th century, the shoe toes reached about 45 cm or more... The very long poulaines were worn only by a fashion-conscious minority. The shoe length hierarchy led to the French expression - "vivre sur un grand pied" (to live on a large foot), denoting the worldly status represented by shoe length.
Pigaches and Their Origins
As already mentioned, in the early 12th century shoes became longer. The prevalence of pointed toes is often associated with France where a knight named Robert Le Cornu is credited with introducing shoes called "pigaches" which were forerunners of the poulaine style.
Extravagances Of The Gothic Fashion
The extravagance was really in vogue. To draw attention to the pointed shoes they were often decorated with a copper bell or a tiny ball that was quite a charming and useful during the festive events in the court. Sometimes even a small round bell or an ornament in the shape of a bird beak often dangled from the tip of the shoe. There were even a military poulaines made for a knight's armour.
At the same time, along with the unusual shoe toes, appeared also the protective wooden pattens. The word "patten" has apparently come from the ancient French word "pate", which means the "paw" or "flutter". Pattens were worn to protect fine leather or cloth shoes from mud and moisture in medieval roads.
Indeed, the poulaines and their pointed toes would only disappear in the early 16th century, after a four-century run. The culmination of this fashion ran from 1360 to 1480, leaving behind evidence of the funny habits of the Gothic era.