For more than half of the recorded history of ancient Egypt there is almost no record of the use of footwear. The main source of evidence for this period, the pictorial stories found in tombs known as hieroglyphs, showed every class of person, from the ruling pharaoh (king or queen), to the lowly worker, going barefoot. This may not mean that people never wore some foot protection, but it does seem to indicate that footwear was of very little importance.
Historians are not sure why sandals were suddenly introduced but, beginning at the start of the New Kingdom period of Egyptian history in about 1500 B.C.E. , sandals suddenly began to appear on the hieroglyphs depicting scenes of Egyptian life. Egyptians had developed advanced shoemaking skills for their time, and they created sandals woven of reeds or leather that were quite similar in design to many modern sandals.
Though the design of Egyptian sandals was simple, the wealthy still found ways to adorn them. Some had buckles on the straps made of precious metals, while others had jewels embedded in the woven soles. Some sandal designs had turned up toes, probably to keep sand out of the shoe as the wearer walked.
There is very little evidence of the use of covered shoes in ancient Egypt. The few that have been found were woven from palm fiber and grass. Such shoes seem to have been prized possessions. Sometimes travelers removed their shoes to keep them safe while they were on the road and then put them on again at journey's end. Other shoes have been found in tombs, indicating that they were important items to the dead person.
Balkwill, Richard. Clothes and Crafts in Ancient Egypt. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 2000.
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 1, Ancient Egypt: Unraveling the Mystery of Hieroglyphs box on p. 18 ]