Fashion for pointy shoes unleashed a wave of bunions in medieval England

historical record, Shoe pointiness, passed a law, Our research, modern clinical research, contemporary cause, Augustinian friars, dress simply, negatively affected, clinical research, MAAS Museum, CC BY, Paris Fashion Week

Marieke Kuijjer/wikimedia, CC BY-SA

The 14th century saw the arrival of an abundance of new styles of dress and footwear in Europe, coming in a wide range of fabrics and colours. Among these new fashion trends were “poulaines” – rather eccentric-looking medieval shoes with a lengthy pointed tip.

The archaeological and the historical record suggests that this new fashion item was widely adopted by England’s medieval society and that, by the late 14th century, almost every type of shoe was at least slightly pointed, even in children. Shoe pointiness would eventually became so extreme that in 1463 King Edward IV passed a law limiting toe-point length to less than two inches within London.

The adoption of this latest flavour of footwear was not without its risks. Our research, conducted on medieval human skeletal remains from Cambridge in England, shows that hallux valgus of the big toe – commonly know as bunions – was surprisingly widespread at the time.

Seeing as modern clinical research has shown that the development of bunions is often linked to wearing tight, ill-fitting footwear, our study suggests that people in late medieval England paid a high price for footwear fashion – in bunions and broken bones.

A build-up of bunions

A bunion is a minor deformity of the big toe. It angles the toe outward from the foot, with a bony protrusion forming at its base. By far the most common contemporary cause of bunions is constrictive boots and shoes – with high heels often blamed for today’s bunions.

It seems that shoes contributed to bunions many centuries ago too. Of the 177 individual skeletal remains we examined in our study, at least 18% had bunions. But when we dated the skeletons, we found that only 6% of people who’d been buried between the 11th and 13th centuries – long before the pointed shoe was in vogue – had suffered from bunions.

However, 27% of those buried at the height of the pointy-shoe fad (in the 14th and 15th century) had been hobbled by longstanding hallux valgus. It seems clear that the increasing pointiness of shoes unleashed a plague of bunions across medieval society.

Class differences

A further fascinating discovery was that hallux valgus was not equally common in all sections of society. Our evidence suggests it was most common in the Augustinian friars and those wealthy inhabitants of the town who could afford to buy a plot in the friary cemetery when they died.

It was less common in poor inhabitants of the town, and least common in a nearby rural farming population. This would suggest that those with plenty of money could afford the fashionable pointed shoes that deformed their feet, while the poor, who wore round-toed shoes or went barefoot, were mostly protected from developing bunions.

Medieval records show how the church in Rome was unimpressed by monks and friars in spending money on fashionable shoes, gloves, hats and belts and repeatedly ordered them to dress simply. However, study of the feet of the Augustinian friars in Cambridge shows they ignored the requests from Rome when it came to matters of the sole.

Broken bones

Far from being a mild inconvenience, our study also found that individuals who’d suffered from bunions and were over the age of 45 were significantly more likely to fracture a bone as the result of a fall than were other adults of the same age who didn’t have hallux valgus.

This is explained by the important role the big toe has in maintaining upper body stability. When the big toe is laterally deviated (a characteristic of bunions) balance and stability while walking can be negatively affected. These findings are consistent with today’s clinical research, which shows that hallux valgus is an independent risk factor for falls, especially in older adults.

historical record, Shoe pointiness, passed a law, Our research, modern clinical research, contemporary cause, Augustinian friars, dress simply, negatively affected, clinical research, MAAS Museum, CC BY, Paris Fashion Week

Modern-day pointy shoes by Comme des Garçons. MAAS Museum, CC BY

Decades after their resurgence as the rock-and-roll era’s winklepickers, it appears that pointy-toed shoes are once again back à la mode. In 2015, the Japanese fashion label Comme des Garçons introduced a spectacular, elongated shoe at Paris Fashion Week, heralding another spike in the sales of pointy shoes.

But if the feet of medieval monks are anything to go by, the wearers of today’s pointy shoes should perhaps approach the footwear with caution. It appears that bunions had a negative impact on medieval people’s mobility and balance, increasing their risk of falls and broken bones. The same may well be true for today’s proponents of the pointy shoe.

historical record, Shoe pointiness, passed a law, Our research, modern clinical research, contemporary cause, Augustinian friars, dress simply, negatively affected, clinical research, MAAS Museum, CC BY, Paris Fashion Week

News Related

OTHER NEWS

The passing of a great Jacob Desvarieux recorded more than 50 albums and helped invent zouk

Jacob Desvarieux, left, and Kassav perform in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in 2009. (Photo: AFP) Guitarist, singer and Kassav founding member Jacob Desvarieux died last month in Guadeloupe at the age ... Read more »

Stay-home guide for Tuesday: Create your own augmented reality, make easy side dishes and more

1. Play: Augmented reality with the kids With the app AR Makr on the iPad, kids can make their own augmented reality projects. ST PHOTO: EDDINO ABDUL HADI I had ... Read more »

'Terrible proof': California fire documentary explores human failings behind blazes

The Dixie Fire is raging through California’s northern forests, as climate change makes wildfire season longer, hotter and more devastating LOS ANGELES – Months after Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker began ... Read more »

Disney's 'Jungle Cruise' a hit in debut weekend

This photo taken on February 20, 2019, shows British comedian, actor and host Jack Whitehall poses on the red carpet on arrival for the BRIT Awards 2019 in London LOS ... Read more »

Amazon to launch 'Lord of the Rings' series in September 2022

Uruk-Hai warriors from the Lord of The Rings during the parade through the Wellington streets prior to the worldwide premier of the third and final Rings movie “Return of The ... Read more »

Nearly 5m fewer girls to be born worldwide over next 10 years

Researchers are concerned that a rise in sex-selective methods could skew demographics and hold development back. PARIS: An estimated 4.7 million fewer girls are expected to be born globally in ... Read more »

Otop Fest takes its products online

The Community Development Department is offering 20% discounts on some Otop products. photos courtesy of The Community Development Department The One Tambon One Product (Otop) Midyear Fest 2021 has returned. ... Read more »

Little Prince exhibition moves online

The online exhibition will get viewers to learn more about the classic book. museum.socanth.tu.ac.th “The Little Prince: Books, Collections And Cross-Cultural Dialogues”, which impressed readers and viewers at Thammasat Museum ... Read more »

Staying mentally strong Even psychiatrists experience Covid anxiety

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Dr Supara Chaopricha — a psychiatrist who manages her own practice — feels that psychiatrists are not exempt from feeling stressed or anxious, which leads to ... Read more »

Place a bid on rare antiques

Some of the pieces up for auction. RCB Auctions RCB Auctions presents a timed auction for Asian antiques and decorative items on its own platform, rcbauctions.com, and also invaluable.com, an ... Read more »

Pamper mum with a Chiva-Som retreat

Photo: Kiattipong Panchee Health is the greatest gift and Chiva-Som International Health Resort has launched a retreat package to pamper mums on the occasion of National Mother's Day, which is ... Read more »

Ultimate hair-styler Dyson Airwrap makes 70s curls and 90s wavy looks an easy task

As part of a campaign for National Mother’s Day, the Dyson Airwrap styler comes in a travel pouch and is available at Dyson.co.th. Photos © Dyson Due to lockdowns and ... Read more »

Best Laptop Brands: find the best laptop brand for your specific need

The best laptop brand for your specific need is likely going to be less important than any given machine’s specific hardware, but when it comes to finding the best laptop ... Read more »

How to become a UX hero

Let’s face it, life isn’t always easy. We’d all appreciate it if things were just a bit simpler and we didn’t have to battle our way through poor experiences. In ... Read more »

A hammerhead shark baby boom near Florida hints at a historic nursery

It seems like an unlikely place for a nursery of endangered hammerhead sharks, but a recreational hot spot just off the coast of Miami may host a school of these ... Read more »

Singer JJ Lin issues legal statement refuting allegations against him over Kris Wu saga

SHANGHAI – Singapore singer JJ Lin has issued a swift rebuttal to nasty talk about him in the wake of the scandal over Canadian-Chinese singer Kris Wu, who was recently ... Read more »

McDonald's launches new Hainanese Chicken burger for National Day

SINGAPORE – McDonald’s Singapore is launching a new locally-inspired burger just in time for National Day on Monday (Aug 9). Inspired by the classic local dish, Hainanese chicken rice, the ... Read more »

Actor Joel Choo posts photo of himself with grey hair in support of #GoSilverSG campaign

Joel Choo posted a photo of himself sporting grey hair in support of #GoSilverSG. SINGAPORE – Local actor Joel Choo may be only 27, but has peeked into the future ... Read more »

Cantopop singer Anthony Wong charged with corruption for singing at 2018 opposition rally

HONG KONG – Popular Cantopop singer Anthony Wong has been charged with corruption for singing two songs at a 2018 rally held by the opposition. Anti-graft watchdog Independent Commission Against ... Read more »

Jacob Desvarieux, pioneer of Caribbean zouk music, dies at 65

Jacob Desvarieux has died of Covid-19. PARIS (AFP) – Jacob Desvarieux, the Guadeloupean co-founder of Caribbean band Kassav’ which shot to global fame in the 1980s by creating the fast-beat ... Read more »

US music fest Lollapalooza drops DaBaby over Aids comments

DaBaby sparked widespread backlash during his performance at the Rolling Loud Festival in Miami on July 25, 2021, when he was accused of spreading misinformation about HIV and Aids. WASHINGTON: ... Read more »

Celebrate the King's birthday through online art exhibition

Some of the paintings to mark the King’s birthday. photos courtesy of Office of Traditional Arts The Office of Traditional Arts at the Fine Arts Department is holding an online ... Read more »

Predators on the loose With online sexual abuse rising amid a pandemic, parents and society have a role to play in improving internet literacy in young children who are most at-risk

Going online to connect with over 1,000 Facebook friends through posts of daily activities was the lifeline Nan* craved after each school lesson. In the hopes of raking in likes ... Read more »

Somtow's Symphony Of Terror to premiere at German Sundance

A scene from The Maestro: A Symphony Of Terror. photo courtesy of Somtow Sucharitkul The Maestro: A Symphony Of Terror, a new Thai film, is scheduled to make its gala ... Read more »

Finding joy in helping others

Two years ago, Banjerd Nualiem opened his first khao kaeng (curry and rice) shop in Nakhon Pathom's Kamphaeng Saen district to offer self-service meals. The price was very minimal, almost ... Read more »

Waste not, want not Environmental groups are urging the Thai government to stop importing other countries' toxic garbage

Thailand has enough of its own e-waste to handle that it doesn’t need to import waste from other countries, environmental groups say. Photo: Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand To generate ... Read more »

Stay-home guide for Monday: Listen to stars read poems, make your own book nooks and more

1. Listen: The Love Book App The celebrity readings are the hook, but the app offers other textual inspirations. PHOTO: THE LOVE BOOK APP Sometimes, all one needs is Tom Hiddleston ... Read more »

Tar Pau Nation: Easy, healthy meals with herbal chicken from Pokpok Keh

The Original Pink Salt Chicken Bento. Herbal chicken is one dish that can be chilled or frozen with little loss in quality when reheated. So I knew I wouldn’t go ... Read more »

Shelf Care: Sorcerer To The Crown is a Regency romp with pontianaks

Regency romance gets a post-colonial spin in this delightful historical fantasy of dragons and pontianaks. Sorcerer to the Crown By Zen Cho Fantasy/Pan Macmillan/2015/Paperback/384 pages/$18.95/Available here Regency romance gets a ... Read more »

After a chaotic pandemic school year, help kids get back on track this fall

The 2020-2021 school year was unlike any other. Millions of students spent part — or most — of the year learning remotely. After months physically away from teachers, classmates and ... Read more »

Netflix releases first look at The Crown's new queen played by Imelda Staunton

Netflix has given a first look at actress Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown. LONDON – The fifth season of hit Netflix series The Crown started filming ... Read more »

Songwriter Roy Loi closed music school due to pandemic, now focused on his Thai eatery

SINGAPORE – Singer-songwriter Roy Loi had to close his music school Imagine Music last June due to the pandemic. Better known as Li Feihui, the 56-year-old self-professed semi-retired musician had ... Read more »

Actor Nicholas Tse says HK entertainment scene has the same old faces, including his

Actor Nicholas Tse has criticised the Hong Kong entertainment world, saying it has the same old faces and does not nurture fresh talent. HONG KONG – Actor Nicholas Tse is ... Read more »

Chinese pop star Kris Wu detained on suspicion of rape

Kris Wu originally shot to fame as a member of the K-pop boyband EXO, before leaving in 2014 to launch a successful solo career BEIJING: Chinese-Canadian pop megastar Kris Wu ... Read more »

Aardvarks and rabbits: Acclaimed American kids' show Arthur says goodbye

The show is based on the series of Arthur Adventure children’s books by Marc Brown. NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – These wonderful kind of days in a neighbourhood where aardvarks, rabbits ... Read more »

Headman steals wife, shooter on run, uncle pays for sin

Village head Samreng with his health volunteer lover, Hong. Local leader lets down the team A village headman in Buri Ram is facing calls to resign after he took off ... Read more »

Dennis Chew reveals Aunty Lucy was killed off as some could not accept the drag role

Aunty Lucy, a middle-aged woman with curly hair who loves free gifts, was known for saying “so embarrassing”. SINGAPORE – Actor-DJ Dennis Chew has opened up on why his popular ... Read more »

Teachers are feeling burned out. Artificial intelligence can help.

Educators are at the ends of their ropes. So suggests a fall 2020 survey by RAND Corp., which found that a quarter of all teachers were thinking about leaving education. ... Read more »

Why It's OK To Let Donald Trump Into the Workplace

Conventional wisdom says you should never talk about politics in the workplace. After all, politics means conflict, and who needs more of that? It’s difficult enough as it is for ... Read more »