Death By Footwear: The Never-ending Saga

By John Salak


Shame on you Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik. Oh my, what price people have paid for the chance to wear fashionable footwear. Sprains, broken ankles, nerve damage, blisters and misaligned feet, the list goes on and on.

Yes, maybe these Loubs and counterparts look great, but come on, how much pain can a person take for fashion? Thankfully, these sorts of pain-for-fashion consequences are relatively recent in the scope of human development. What, maybe 30 to 50 years? Wrong. Big wrong.

Apparently, Brits started paying the pain price for fashion footwear more than 500 years ago. Cambridge University researchers literally dug into the matter when they studied almost 200 skeletons in two batches from the 11th to 13th Centuries and the 14th to 15th Centuries.

Guess what. The advent of fashionable pointy shoes in the 14th Century coincided with a four-fold increase in bunions and hallux valgus, a bone deformity in the foot. The British team also found that medieval people with hallux valgus where significantly more likely to have suffered broken bones in their feet.

Apparently, the 14th Century ushered in fashion renaissance, including the introduction of pointed long-toed shoes call poulaines—which may have originated in Crakow. And these puppies weren’t just for women. The male muckety mucks, and even the clergy of the time, became so enamored with the style that in 1463 good King Edward IV stepped in (no pun intended) and outlawed any shoes with points that extended two inches beyond a person’s toes.

Way to go Eddie. Fortunately, a royal decree didn’t put an end to footwear obsession in medieval England or 21st Century America. In fact, for all the advances in footcare and medicine now available, contemporary shoes are still killing us.

Pointed pumps can lead to nerve damage, blisters, sprains and back pains; flipflops may lead to misaligned feet and calluses; wear flats and plantar fascia may be in your future; and running shoes may lead to trauma.

Well, if nothing else, at least we’ve learned to make shoes better, with fewer harmful materials to man, beast and planet. Wrong again.

Of the 20 billion shoes made in 2019, most were made from oil derivatives polyester, synthetic rubber (SBR), polyurethane (PU) foams and textiles, EVA outsoles and insoles and PVC. All this means more microplastics are polluting the planet’s air, water, oceans and grounds. Don’t even ask about leather. It’s tanned with some of the most toxic chemicals in the world.

Somebody wake up King Edward or any king or queen. A royal footwear degree is needed.

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