Europeans wore a wide variety of footwear during the fifteenth century, from simple pull-on leather moccasins to highly decorated poulaines, extremely long, pointed shoes. Shoes were generally made of leather, with either wood or leather for soles. They might be held to the foot with laces or with buckles. Working people generally wore heavier leather shoes and boots, but the upper classes, who provide most of the information about clothing styles since they were the ones who often left the most records, wore fancier shoes.
There were also several different footwear styles that were popular for a time. For the early part of the fifteenth century the trend in footwear was to have pointy toes. Shoes of all styles tended to come to a point. The most popular footwear among nobles in the courts of the various kingdoms of Europe were the crackowes and the poulaines that had become so popular in the fourteenth century. These soft-soled leather shoes had very long points, some extending for nearly two feet, and often had decorative flaps and buckles. Competition to see who could wear the longest shoes made the points ever longer.
The trend toward pointy shoes came to an end around the 1470s, when a major shift in taste changed fashions throughout Europe. The long, lean look faded and was replaced by a preference for broad, chunky shapes. As a result, most shoes had blunt, squared-off toes. The most extreme examples had toe boxes, with the fronts of the shoe looking almost swollen.
Men continued to wear hose throughout the fifteenth century, and many of these hose covered the feet, with either a light leather sole or no sole at all. Historians have wondered how men kept these hose from getting dirty or wearing through. One way to protect the soles of hose was to wear pattens. Pattens were wooden overshoes that could be worn outdoors and usually had two wooden blocks that raised the foot above the mud and dust of the streets. Some form of patten has also been used in Japan and in Arab countries.
Women's shoes seemed to have followed the general trends of men's shoes, moving from long and pointy to short and rounded. The long dresses that women wore, however, hid their feet from view in most portraits and artifacts, preventing a detailed picture of their footwear.
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
[ See also Volume 2, Europe in the Middle Ages: Crackowes and Poulaines ]