Chopines (sha-PEENS), shoes with very tall wooden or cork platform soles, inspired what some consider the first clothing fad. During the High Renaissance of the sixteenth century, fashionable, wealthy women in Venice, Italy, eagerly climbed into these shoes that ranged from six to twenty-four inches in height. Feet were secured to the pedestals with straps of leather or uppers (the part of a shoe above the sole) made of silk or other fabric. The tops of chopines were rarely seen; the shoes were more valued for their height and for the dainty stride they required of wearers. Towering on their shoes in glamorous long gowns, women who wore chopines needed the support of their husbands or maids to hobble the streets and royal courts of Venice. Chopines made Italian women "half flesh, half wood," remarked traveler John Evelyn in his diary of 1666, as quoted in The Book of Costume.
The craze for chopines in Italy coincided with the peak of attraction for extravagant dress during the 1500s, when almost every article of clothing was highly exaggerated. By the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, Spanish, French, and Swiss women were also teetering fashionably on chopines. The fad never reached northern Europe.
Chopines were not an Italian invention. The shoes signaled the establishment of trade between Venetian merchants and the Near East, or southwest Asia. Although the true origins of chopines is not known, the tall clogs Turkish women wore in bathhouses or the pedestal shoes worn by actors on Greek stages in early history may have been the inspiration for chopines. Chopines were used by the Manchus (people native to Manchuria who ruled China from 1644 to 1912) in China in the mid-1600s as a less painful alternative to the deforming effects of foot binding that had been practiced since the tenth century. (Foot binding was a common practice in China whereby young women and girls would bind their feet so as to make them stop growing.) The pedestals of Chinese chopines were much slimmer than those developed in Venice, offering women a footprint similar to that of bound feet and giving them the same difficulty walking.
Although enjoyed for their glamorous, fashionable effect, chopines were considered by some observers as tools to keep women in the home, to keep them from wandering, going astray morally. Indeed, this was the purpose of the foot binding that chopines replaced in China, and chopines did make walking a slow and difficult task. In Italy clergymen regarded the wearing of chopines as particularly admirable because the shoes inhibited the wearer from indulging in morally dangerous pleasures such as dance.
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