Footwear of African Cultures

The available evidence about ancient African cultures suggests that most Africans did not wear shoes for much of their early history. Although many northern tribes had contact with people who wore sandals and shoes, including the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, and later Arabs and Persians (from present-day Iran), a complete record of when or how Africans adopted foot coverings does not exist. The most common depictions of Africans from statues, artwork, and examples of traditional dress still worn by groups throughout the continent suggest that bare feet were most common.

Footwear is now worn in Africa. When Europeans established trade routes with Africa in the fifteenth century, European products, including shoes, entered Africa and many Africans began wearing Western style foot coverings. Africans also created their own slippers and leather sandals modeled on Western examples. But whether imported or made nearby, shoes were available mainly to the wealthiest Africans. Although many present-day Africans wear Western style shoes, sandals, and boots, not all Africans wear or can afford shoes and several aid organizations ship shoes, among other things, to Africa.


Blauer, Ettagale. African Elegance. New York: Rizzoli, 1999.

Kennett, Frances, and Caroline MacDonald-Haig. Ethnic Dress. New York: Facts on File, 1994.

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