Published: September 2006

The Joy of Shoes

High Heels Fur

Every Shoe Tells a Story

Baby booties to orthopedic sandals, we spend most of our waking lives in shoes, and from them we may learn something about our culture, our history, and ourselves.

By Cathy Newman
National Geographic Senior Writer
Photograph by Mitchell Feinberg

We wear our hearts on our soles. "Shoes are the best indicator of how people are feeling," says June Swann, a shoe historian based in Northampton, England. To hear Swann tell it, you can chart the rise and fall of prosperity from the elevation of a heel; hear the distant rumblings of war in the configuration of a toe; measure social change by the thickness of a sole.

Every shoe tells a story. Shoes speak of status, gender (usually), ethnicity, religion, profession, and politics (the Russian writer Maxim Gorky said a strong pair of boots "will be of greater service for the ultimate triumph of socialism than . . . black eyes"). Last, far from least, they can be drop-dead gorgeous.

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