The Medieval Commoner’s Choice: Peasant Shoes
Shoes are one of those things that many people don’t think twice about, but they are arguably one of the most important parts of an outfit. Aesthetics aside, what shoes you wear can hugely impact your whole day.
A poor pair of shoes can be uncomfortable, flimsy, and can result in sore feet that last for days. This is especially true if you’ve spent all day on your feet, such as at a LARP or cosplay event. So, you’re going to want something that is comfortable and hard-wearing as well as fitting with the rest of your historic or fantasy outfit.
So, you’ll be pleased to hear that these medieval peasant shoes tick all of those boxes. First of all, they are handmade from leather, which matches their historical counterparts perfectly. You have the option of either black or brown leather peasant shoes, both of which should match almost any outfit or character that you have lined up.
The style of the shoes clearly follows that of historical shoes, with a simple and streamlined design. The leather top of each shoe is firmly attached to the sole with metal nails. The leather top consists mainly of one sheet of leather, with a seam at the back to close it into the shoe shape.
As well as the main leather top, the shoes have a simple tongue and are fastened with attractive chunky leather laces. The laces are either black or brown, depending on the colour of your chosen pair of shoes. To finish off the look, the top edges of the peasant shoes are detailed with natural coloured stitching, which matches the lacing nicely.
With the proper care, these medieval peasant shoes should last for a good while. Treat them as you would any other leather shoes, brushing them clean when they need it and regularly polishing or oiling the leather to prevent cracks. This will keep them looking nice and ready for yet another LARP event, no matter the weather.
These shoes are unisex, available in sizes appropriate for both male and female wearers. They also match many different characters. While these shoes are geared towards the common peasant folk, they are stylish and simple enough to go with a huge variety of outfits and to give them a nice, authentic finishing touch.
The Development of Footwear Through History: Shapeless Bags to Welted Shoes
Footwear was invented far before the middle ages, as people have always seen the importance of covering and protecting their feet. Unfortunately, many of the popular materials for shoemaking in ancient and medieval times are perishable.
This means that we have little concrete evidence of what they were like, outside of artwork and written descriptions. As far as we know, the earliest shoes were made using bark and twine, meaning that there are few surviving examples.
Leather was introduced as a shoemaking material over 5000 years ago and has proven to be so effective that we still wear leather shoes today. As a material, leather is fantastic for this purpose. It is easy to obtain and somewhat renewable, malleable enough to work with, and very hard wearing. Leather can be both soft and comfortable or very stiff and tough, depending on the manufacturing process. With the proper care, leather can easily last several lifetimes.
However, leather also decomposes. So, like the very early bark and twine shoes, the vast majority of ancient and medieval leather shoes haven’t survived to this day. Other shoes were made with wood, but these weren’t as popular as good old leather.
The earliest leather shoes were constructed from a single piece of cowhide, which was fastened to the foot with a leather cord. They were more like bags that you stuck your foot in than shoes that were shaped for the purpose. Still, they did the job.
The Ancient Greeks commonly wore sandals, which consisted of a simple sole and straps that wrapped around the foot. You know, like modern sandals. These were great in hot climates and were also popular in Roman times. However, cooler climates demanded more protective footwear.
In medieval times, the shoemaking process actually enjoyed a great deal of advancement. Because of our focus on the middle ages, we’ll concentrate on this period of time in a bit more detail. One of the earliest and revolutionary developments during the medieval period was that of ‘turnshoes’.
Turnshoes: The Hallmark of the Middle Ages
The turnshoe style of shoemaking pretty much defines footwear through much of the middle ages. It was easy enough for people to do at home, requiring no specialist tools. In fact, people still make turnshoes today.
The simplest and earlier method involved two pieces of leather, one for the upper (or shaft) and one for the sole. The upper piece would have been cut in a certain shape to allow it to wrap around the foot and then be stitched together at the back. Generally, the upper piece of leather would be softer and more malleable than the sole, but both need to be relatively soft for the process to work.
Anyway, the shoemaker would turn the leather upper of the shoe and the sole upside down, before stitching them both together. Then, as the name suggests, the stitched together shoe is turned inside out.
To start with, that was it. Sometimes the shoes would have a cord wrapped around the ankle to fasten them more tightly to the foot, but we’ll talk more about medieval fastenings later. So, what were the pros and cons of the turnshoe method?
Well, the turnshoe method meant that the seam was always on the inside of the shoe. This extended the lifespan of the shoe by protecting the more vulnerable seams from wear and tear. It also meant that the shoes were more water-resistant than if they had outer seams.
However, one of the biggest issues was that these shoes were by definition rather soft. They would have been comfortable, sure, but the malleable leather wouldn’t provide much protection from the ground and could wear down quite quickly, especially when we consider the soles of the turnshoe.
Another problem was that these shoes could also be quite loose on the foot, not having much of the way of shape. Sure, they were a far cry from the shapeless bags that were the earliest leather shoes, but they could do with refinement.
Fortunately, medieval shoemakers didn’t just stop there. The turnshoe continued to be developed through the middle ages. The easiest improvement was that of the fit. As we’ve mentioned, some people would tie a cord or string around the ankle to secure the shoe onto their foot. Later, these drawstrings were attached directly to the shoe itself, along with toggled straps. All in all, this made the shoes fit much better around the feet.
Another, rather obvious change was that of the sole. After the shoe was constructed, many shoemakers would then attach a second, more sturdy sole to the bottom of the turnshoe. This reinforced sole would make the shoe more comfortable to wear and sturdier.
This turnshoe method, with a few changes, continued all through the middle ages. However, right at the end of the middle ages, a new method of shoemaking was introduced, called welting. This method was more time consuming and required a craftsman, but the shoes spoke for themselves.
Welted Shoes: The Culmination of Shoemaking Technology
First of all, what is welting? Simply put, it involves sewing the upper, insole and outsole together. This includes a “welt”, which is a narrow strip of leather that is sewn separately to the upper and the sole.
This welt provides a layer of protection at the seam. This means that the shoe will last longer and will be more weather resistant. Essentially, it has the same benefits of the turnshoe method, while allowing sturdier leather to be used to construct the shoe. If that wasn’t enough, this welt creates a small cavity, which can be filled with a material, such as cork, that further cushions the shoe.
Now, this all results in a wonderful shoe, but it is a tricky process which requires some specialised equipment and a whole lot of time. Because of the many layers of thick leather, you’ll need a strong and thick needle to get through. You also need a very precise hand and skill, as this is one of the more difficult hand-sewing techniques to master.
Nowadays, an expert can make a pair of shoes in about forty minutes, albeit with modern equipment and with all the preparation done beforehand. If we think back to our medieval cobbler, they would have had to cut and shape the leather themselves and make sure that everything is ready before the stitching process can even begin.
So, this would have also been a costly process. It’s not hard to believe that many poorer families would likely stick to the old turnshoes that they could still make from home. Despite the difficulty, however, hand welted shoes are still the gold standard for shoe production, even centuries on.
Several hundred years after this hand welting method was created, during the late 19th century, the Goodyear Welt Construction method was developed. This involved the use of a specialised sewing machine that allowed welted shoes to be made much more quickly, thus making them more accessible to the public.
While modern times have seen other methods of shoemaking, which mostly involve using cheaper materials and gluing them together, none have proven as durable as the Welting process. A well-made pair can last for decades and can be repaired by a good cobbler when needed.
Complete the kit! Check out the Medieval Peasant Tunic!
The technical specifications for the peasant shoes are as follows:
- Material: Leather
- Colours: Black or brown
- Care Instructions: Remove dirt with a hard brush, then gently clean with a soft, damp cloth and leather soap. Use a second damp cloth to remove soap, then a dry cloth to wipe away excess water. Condition with oil or polish for best results.
The peasant shoes are available in a variety of sizes, which have different shoe shaft heights. All measurements are approximate due to the handmade nature of this item:
- Sizes Euro 36-40, US Women’s 5.5-9.5, US Men’s 6.5-7: Shoe Shaft Height of 2.75 inches
- Size Euro 41, US Women’s 10.5, US Men’s 8: Shoe Shaft Height of 3 inches
- Sizes Euro 42-43, US Women’s 11.5-12, US Men’s 9-10: Shoe Shaft Height of 2.9inches
- Size Euro 44, US Men’s 11: Shoe Shaft Height of 3 inches
- Size Euro 45, US Men’s 12: Shoe Shaft Height of 3.1 inches