Yes, we know the old adage about nothing new under sun. Even in the wonderfully transitory world of fashion, where the definition of "new" changes by the moment, there have to be some do-overs.
Which brings us back in time to the Italian Renaissance, and to the famous courtesans of Venice. In the 16th c., they epitomized hotness for the rest of Europe. They had their own special style, too, including the most outrageous platform shoes imaginable, some rising as high as twenty inches. (The most fashionable Venetian ladies wore these shoes as well, as did Spanish ladies, but it's the courtesans who wore the most extreme versions, and who were satirized the most.)
These tall shoes were called chopines, and like all trendy shoes, they were as much about their exclusive expense as they were about style; only the wealthiest women, whether of good reputation or not, could afford chopines. (We've written more about them here before, and with more pictures.) The 16th.c. artist of the illustration, left, has thoughtfully done a cutaway view of this courtesan's skirt, so we can see her sauntering seductively on her chopines. The reality, below right, was probably much less jaunty, let alone graceful. Part of the allure of such high shoes came from being able to afford the necessary servants who walked on either side to make sure their mistress didn't fall.
Which brings us forward in time to the present, and to singer, artist, and fashion-setter Lady Gaga. Among her many talents, Gaga has demonstrated a rare gift for walking and even dancing in extremely tall shoes. While there have been some well-documented tumbles (oh, lucky 16th c. courtesans, not having to deal with paparazzi!), on the whole she's been remarkably well-balanced – even if she, too, often has attendants/body guards/spotters on either side to help stave off disaster.
Lady G. could also relate to the handmade chopines that flaunted the Venetian sumptuary laws: her favorite pair by designer Noritaka Tatehana have a price tag of $6500. Here's an entertaining link that shows Gaga and her towering footwear, as well as a video of more mortal women attempting to walk, literally, in her shoes.
We have to think those Renaissance courtesans would have been green with shoe-envy....
Interested in learning more about chopines, as well as zoccoli and pantoufles? Thanks to the glory of Google, we found this amazing site by Francis Classe, a gentleman who has clearly made Renaissance footwear his vocation. Great photos, and there are even directions for whipping up a pair of chopines for yourself. Check it out!
Above left: Venetian Courtesan by Pietro Bertelli, 1589 Above right: Venetian chopines, unknown maker, 16th c., Museo Correr di Veneziani
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.