Sixteenth-Century Footwear

By the sixteenth century footwear construction methods had grown quite advanced. The shoes of common people were generally made of leather, and while they were fairly simple in construction they were also very durable. Soles were made of wood, cork, or extra layers of leather, and uppers, or the tops of shoes, were either tied or buckled in place. Shoemakers, called cobblers, also developed the ability to make very tall boots for riding or fieldwork. These boots came up to the thigh and had a floppy leather cuff that could be rolled down. In the next century these boots would become fancier in their design and were commonly worn by men of the upper class. In the sixteenth century, however, they were still used primarily for outdoor work or by members of mounted military units.

Most wealthy men of the sixteenth century wore slippers made of soft leather, silk, or velvet, often in patterns matched to their outfits. Reproduced by permission of © .

The footwear of the upper classes was usually far from practical. In keeping with the century's trend toward rich fabrics and elaborate ornament, both men and women wore shoes that emphasized fashion over comfort or ease of use. Men in the early part of the century were fond of very wide-toed shoes. Leather slipons, called duck's bill shoes, flared out at the toe. In their most extreme form they could be as wide as twelve inches at the toe and forced men to walk like a duck. This fashion faded by midcentury, and most wealthy men wore slippers made of soft leather, silk, or velvet, often in patterns matched to their outfit. Women also adopted an extremely impractical form of shoe called the chopine. These slippers sat atop a platform that ran the length of the shoe and could be as high as twenty-four inches. Chopines were very difficult to walk in. People of both sexes also began to wear shoes with thicker heels, including the first wedge heels. Both men and women used ribbons, bows, and jewels to decorate their shoes. Such shoes were not intended for outdoor wear, of course, and both sexes wore overshoes called pattens and pantofles to protect their dainty shoes if they did go outside in them.


Cassin-Scott, Jack. Costume and Fashion in Colour, 1550–1760. Introduction by Ruth M. Green. Dorset, England: Blandford Press, 1975.

Lawlor, Laurie. Where Will This Shoe Take You?: A Walk Through the History of Footwear. New York: Walker and Co., 1996.

Pattens and Pantofles

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