The humble origins of the Sandal

We often refer to them as the everyday shoe – a style that is both chic and casual, has optimum comfort but can also transcend from daywear into evening better than any other footwear on the market. Of course we are referring to the common sandal. But if we look back at the history of this style, it is much more than ordinary.

Sandals are believed to be the very first crafted footwear with their simplistic strappy style and customary leather soles. While the modern version varies in style, colours, height, fabric and style (from strappylicious knee high leather versions to coral coloured simple styles), the early sandals were plain and built for practicality over fashion.
They consisted of only two parts, that being the sole and the thong, which has made way for the widely popular flip flop today. Since plastic wasn’t an option back then, sandals were made from whatever material was most available in their region.

Egyptian sandals

416217_f260Unbelievably, the first Egyptian sandals were basically made from a footprint in wet sand. Braided papyrus (a tall water plant used for making paper) was then moulded into the sole prints and attached to the foot by palm fibre to form the traditional thong structure. It wasn’t until the Egyptians learned to tan hide that sandals were eventually made from leather.
Apparently these early leather shoes didn’t accommodate for fit or size, so people with feet outside the general mould just had to make do.

In ancient Egypt, the sandal was the sign of power and rank as shoes were a sign of luxury and wealth as not everyone could afford them. The colour of your shoe was also a sign of class. Gold and jewelled peaked_pharoah_sandalssandals were for the king and his court, pastels for dignitaries with red and yellow being the only colours allowed for the middle class. As for the slaves? Well, they went barefoot.

The highest ranking sandal of course went to the Pharoah who had his own special style featuring a peak at the top of the toes, pointing upwards. These pointed shoes began to show up around 1234-1250 and were made from fabric or soft leather.


phaecasiumThe Greeks were the known masters of shoe making and by 400 BC they had perfected the craft and in the process made them popular culture. According to Head Over Heel’s History, people’s obsession with footwear became such that social `rules’ were placed on certain styles.

Specific shoes were assigned to certain occupations and were only worn outdoors. Cheap sandals made of wood, felt or linen and were worn by countrymen, priests and philosophers and these were called phaecasium.

The Romans 

ancient-roman-gladiator-sandalsWhile the Greeks developed a sophisticated sandal, the Roman Empire saw footwear as a means to prepare their soldiers for battle. A soldiers uniform had to be both practical and this meant the shoes were more durable and sturdy.
Like the Greeks, Roman shoes were also a sign of class distinction with varying styles and colours according to where you stood socially. Red was restricted to the emperor only, while black and white was designated for senators and pale colours for the wealthy. The slaves and poor once again went barefooted or very simple styles.


The Romans were known for their decadent feasts, and since they would never wear shoes inside, a specific `banqueting’ slipper was designed called a soleae, carried by a servant when they were outdoors.

mary_kate_gladiatorsA soldier’s footwear, known as campagnus, was one of great importance as their style designated rank. These were heavily tooled and guilded, according to rank, with ornamental symbols, such as a real head and paws of a small animal such as a fox, or ivory, over the instep. The boots laced up the front with a leather tongue to protect the front of the foot and shin. The higher the boot was worn on the leg the more superior the rank of the officer.

The modern Roman gladiator style made its way back into popular culture when style icon Mary Kate Olsen wore the knee-high cage version around 2008.

This article referenced information from Head over Heels History blog, visit here.

And the History of Sandals blog, here.

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