Did you know that humans have been wearing footwear of some form or another for as many as 40,000 years now? And that it’s only been in the last 200 years that shoes have been designed with differentiation for left and right feet?
You needn’t necessarily be a fashionista to appreciate the astonishing variations in footwear over the ages. You need only to bring your curiosity to one of the two dozen-ish museums around the world dedicated to design of the shoe.
Here’s a look at Spot Cool Stuff’s five favorites places to kick off a podiatric exploration:
Bata Shoe Museum
Bata is the world’s largest — and best — shoe museum. At any one time around 12,000 shoes and shoe-related objects are on display here, from Japanese sandals made from human hair to grass socks worn by Alaska’s Aleut people to a pair of 4,500 year old boots. What’s especially cool is that only about 25% of the museums 39,000 sq. feet is devoted to semi-permanent displays. In the other three fourths of the exhibition space the museum changes their shoes with Carrie Bradshaw-esque frequency; you can visit this museums every few weeks and see something new.
If you are wondering, the Bata Shoe Museum was founded by the same family that started the Bata Shoe Company. In an effort to keep commercialism and museum integrity separate, not a single pair of Bata shoes are on display at the museum.
Also, if you are visiting other attractions in the greater Toronto area you’ll save money with a Go Toronto Card that will grant you admission to the Bata Museum, the Textile Museum of Canada, the Skylon Tower and 16 other attractions.
Shoes or no shoes? That is the question at the acronymically named SONS museum located 74 km (46 miles) east of Brussels. This stark black space has shelves of brightly lit shoes that look as if though they were conjured into existence a la that scene from The Matrix. SONS specializes in ethnographic shoes, or shoes with special cultural significance. The footwear on display here is more like art than fashion. For that reason, SONS is the shoe museum on this list that is most likely appeal to people who aren’t necessarily interested in shoes (which is to say, straight men).
Marikina Shoe Museum
Recent history’s most (in)famous collector of shoes is almost certainly Imelda Marcos, widower of the former Philippine dictator. Ever wonder what happened to her shoes after her husband was deposed and the couple fled into exile? Presumably Marcos managed to bring at least one pair of footwear with her. (Choosing which to take must of been a difficult). But over 1,500 other pairs of Marcos’ shoes ended up in a being housed in a museum that was once a 19th century rice mill. The museum in Marikina, a smart section of the Philippine capital, is focused on shoes but is really more of a testament to dictatorial excess. Happily, you needn’t plunder the resources of your home country to get into the museum — admission is only P50, or about US$1.
TUSPM Shoe Museum
Philadelphia, PA USA
On the sixth floor of the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine is an interesting, compact (and relatively unknown) exhibit of shoes. The displays focus on the question of why people wear shoes. (The answer isn’t simple and obvious as you might imagine). But what’s cool about the TUSPM Shoe Museum is that it is free and by appointment only. Guests are shown around by a TUSPM student, or by the exhibit curator herself, and questions are encouraged. Plan on spending at least an hour; see the museum’s web page for visiting details.
Giant Shoe Museum
Seattle, Washington USA
If spending a dollar on the Marikina Shoe Museum (above) is beyond your budget check out this exhibit on the bottom floor of Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market. It isn’t so much a museum in the traditional sense as it is a coin-operated machine of the sort that was once the stable of fairs and carnivals. Drop a quarter into one of the three slots here and you’ll see a photographic “peep shoe.” Each slots reveals a different slide show; the one that shows the shoes worn by the world’s tallest man is the most popular of them.