Best Foot Forward

If anything highlights our relatively low expectations of modern footwear, it would be this collection of shoes from the Ottoman Empire. Although the average British woman owns between 20 and 30 pairs surely she’d trade them all for a single pair of these slippers. The Ottoman dynasty stepped out in exquisite style. The softest leather, the finest fabrics and then the decoration – metal wire embroidery, sequins and pearls.

Shoes From The Sadberk Hanim Museum Collection consisted primarily of late Ottoman and early Turkish Republic shoes and slippers, as well as a handful of shoes from Central Asia, Iran, North Africa, India and Europe. The 127 pairs on show ranged from practical leather boots to beautifully embroidered slippers and mother-of-pearl encrusted clogs. We were are also offered a glimpse into the lives and methods of Ottoman shoemakers and distributors.

Ostensibly this was just a show about shoes: however, perhaps unsurprisingly, those on show reveal much more than what people liked to wear on their feet. Wooden clogs, or ‘Nalın’ were an essential part of daily life in the Ottoman Empire, worn by all when visiting the baths. These clogs (which resemble 1970s Glam Rock boots rather than practical slippers) were usually made with a high heel or platform in order to avoid stepping in dirty water or on hot floors. For women in particular the higher the heel, the higher the wearer ranked in society – as ever in fashion, the more things change, the more they stay the same…

You can read this review in full in Selvedge issue 64.


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