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  • Adrian J. Boas

On a Sharp Fashion


From Guillebert de Lannoy, L'Instruction d'un jeune prince, c. 1468-70.

In the 1960s everything became angular – tailored suits, women's "cat-eye" glasses, cars. But I think that the most remarkable example of this trend was with shoes, specifically pointed shoes worn by some of the young men. Shiny, black, highly polished, sharp as kitchen knives, they posed a real threat to any passing cockroach. They were a display of youthful defiance in the face of the more gently tailored establishment, and perhaps, to a degree, they were effective in achieving this aim. At least, along with long hair and loud music they drew very clear battle lines in the sand between the generations. But fashion is like a ship in a stormy sea, lurching from one extreme to another, and the excesses of the sixties were not really anything new, just as the clash between generations was nothing new. Nor is it always the generation gap that is behind new styles. Sometimes it is something far less romantic, like an illness or deformity.


Pointed shoes came into vogue in Europe in the eleventh or twelfth century, and drew as much criticism then as they were to in the twentieth century. After some time the style lost its popularity, disappeared, reappeared, and finally died out in the fifteenth century. One of the reasons for its eventual demise was the realisation that pointed shoes were simply dangerous, and not just to cockroaches, but to the wearer who, although very up to date in his wardrobe, put his life at risk when climbing stairs.


In the Latin East, as is so often the case, royalty and high nobility were leaders in fashion. The king of Cyprus, John II, wore pointed shoes or pigaciae, as can be seen in a portrait of him preserved in the diary of a German visitor to the court, Georg von Ehingen. But the style may have reached the Latin East as early as the twelfth century, with the arrival in the Holy Land of Fulk of Anjou, who married Queen Melisende and became the king of Jerusalem in 1131. Unfortunately, we have no contemporary illustration of the king wearing pigaciae, so this is hypothetical, but we do know that his father, Count Fulk IV of Anjou, not only wore them, but indeed appears to have been the person who initiated this fashion, albeit not through choice, but necessity. According to the English chronicler, Orderic Vitalis, the count was something of a rake, who had abandoned himself to all sorts of vices. But his taste in footwear was not apparently motivated by the desire to dress the part. The reason he wore shoes of unusual length and very sharp at the toes, was in order to conceal a deformity resulting from a serious case of bunions. Nonetheless, pointed shoes became all the rage. Orderic, who did not hide his disdain for the fashion, noted that these shoes, shaped like scorpions’ tails, were popular among "light-minded persons" who found the style to be "sweet as honey to their taste". That it indeed took hold in the Latin East can be observed in an early statute of the Rule of the Templar Order, which prohibited brothers from wearing pointed shoes (or, oddly enough, shoe laces) under any circumstances "For it is manifest and well known that these things belong to pagans.*


*quotes from Orderic Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, vol. 2, book VIII, Ch. 10, ed. M. Guizot, transl. T. Forester, London 1854, p. 477; J.M. Upton-Ward, The Rule of the Templars, Woodbridge, 2002, p. 25 (The Primitive Rule, statute 22).


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