(Apologies again for the wacky spacing in this article. I do not have the time today to wrestle with formatting. If you wish to view a more coherent version of this post, you can find it on my companion website, http://bit.ly/2nJng9N. Again, I am sorry.)
If you are like me, you tend to think that fashion trends date to the time you first noticed them. In my case, I thought platform shoes were introduced in my lifetime.
The joke’s on me, though. Platforms are old, old news. European women were wearing such shoes during the Renaissance. They were called chopines.
Here you see a pair of chopines, a shoe style popular between the 15th and 17th centuries.
This particular pair is new, of course, and built based on observations of shoe remnants and old documents. These chopines can be seen at the big Kunsthistorishes Museum in Vienna.
That green pair makes me think of fashion designer Marc Jacobs and his recent penchant for exaggerated platform boots, which might well have been inspired by chopines. Below is an example from the most recent collection.
I don’t think Jacobs expects to sell many of these boots. They seem to function as background details in promotions of more conventional handbags and dresses.
The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum is among several collections that have actual antique chopines. Imagine walking down the street in shoes like these. (For that matter, imagine keeping shoes like these and passing them down in the family for hundreds of years!)
Lore has it that chopines were worn by ladies of leisure. They were practical shoes in that they protected one’s feet during walks along dirt roads in the days when thoroughfares were decorated with mud, donkey manure and whatever garbage people had tossed out their windows.
The shoes were impractical, however, in that wearers were likely to teeter and fall. (See Marc Jacobs, above.) Ladies in chopines traditionally were escorted by servants to protect against this eventuality.
The wearing of chopines has been compared to the old Chinese practice of binding women’s feet to keep them small or, ideally, tiny. In both cases, the result was to make women unable to maneuver; only wealthy men could afford wives who could not contribute to the family enterprise.
This seems to have led men of the age to regard women wearing chopines as particularly attractive. A 19th century English etymologist wrote this:
“The noise of the Chopine — the creaking of this Shoe, seems to have made a very lively impression on the Spanish imagination; as we find it applied in familiar language to express the satisfaction which is enjoyed by the presence of a woman in the house.”
Chopines/Platforms of the Moment
Here are some of this spring’s platform sandals.
Marco de Vincenzo
None of these shoes is all that unusual. Platforms, especially platform sandals, have become wardrobe staples. It makes sense for fashion houses to release new versions every year.
Note: Chopine Humor
William Shakespeare was aware of the styles of his day. He managed to work a chopine joke into “Hamlet,” perhaps to leaven the heavy mood in much of the rest of the play.
In Act II, Scene 2, the Danish prince says this to an actor:
“What, my young lady and mistress! By ‘r Lady, your ladyship is nearer to heaven than when I saw you last, by the altitude of a chopine.
“Pray God, your voice, like a piece of uncurrent gold, be not cracked within the ring.”
The fun here is that the actor is a man who plays female parts; there were no women thespians at the Globe Theatre, or any other theater, in the bard’s day. Shakespeare teases the young man, noting that he is growing taller and suggesting that his vocal range may be trending lower, as adolescent boys’ voices tend to do. The implication is that the actor is aging out of female roles.
Here is a a dumbed-down, executive-summary translation of the same lines from something called “No Fear Shakespeare:”
“Well hello, my young lady friend. You’ve grown as much as the height of a pair of platform shoes at least!
“I hope your voice hasn’t changed yet.”