On this day - 27th Mar 1790: The Shoelace Was Invented

I came across this bizarre anniversary when searching for interesting new blog ideas and couldn't resist adding it to the list. It just seemed so quirky! Unfortunately, I soon discovered it wasn’t as transparent as it had seemed, but it was too good to miss so here goes: sit back, relax and immerse yourself in the wonderful world of shoelaces…


Modern Shoe with Laces
By David Ring [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Human beings have been shodding their feet in shoes for millennia and it’s hardly surprising. I mean who could expect Mr Cave Man to go off hunting through mud and sleet, without a nice pair of prehistoric wellies to keep his toes dry in. Perhaps the elite of the cave world even wore Hunters Wellies, why not?! Sadly this is unlikely, as shoes back then tended to be fairly basic, worn for necessity, not style. No rubbery glamour, and certainly no diamante encrusted heels for the Cave Ball. 

Idealbild aus der Steinzeit - Höhlenbewohner (Darnaut)

The Cave Ball?!
Hugo Darnaut [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cave shoes were made for wear (not sobbing your life out over a broken heel as you squat in a club bathroom watching your friends attempt to stick the heel back on with a glue made out of paper towels and liquid soap). Generally, cave shoes were most likely to be made from animal hides, tied together by a sort of leathery string. “A ha!” I hear you cry (in what is, I am sure, totally genuine excitement without the faintest hint of boredom or sarcasm) “surely that sounds like a shoelace!” Well, does it? That is the eternal conundrum fascinating shoelace-astorians (what a job title that would be) today. Does a string wrapped around leather constitute a shoelace? According to some, yes it does. According to others, yup you guessed it, oh no it doesn’t. Ooh it’s all getting a bit pantomime! Perhaps I should nip off for a ludicrous costume change before the next paragraph… 

To get back to the riveting world of shoelaces, other sources suggest that shoelaces were invented in England, on this day in 1790, a whole 225 years ago from now, but a whopping 5325 years since the first known shoe. Seems like a pretty long time for mankind to invent a shoelace, but there you go. Perhaps it just took the English a while to catch on? The English hadn’t really bothered much with the idea of shoelaces, I suppose, because they had much snazzier attire. Buckles were all the rage and my were they pretty.  

English baroque shoe buckles in original box, 1750-1770 - Bata Shoe Museum - DSC00119

English Baroque shoe buckles in original box, 1750-1770 Bata Shoe museum 
By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By 1790, buckles had been restraining feet with pride for centuries. Particularly popular in the Elizabethan era, buckles came in many designs: plain and simple for the poor, and encrusted with jewels for the more prosperous. In the days before bank cards buckles could be a very sensible way of carrying your fortune around with you. Desperate for a new dress you’ve just spotted in the window from your carriage? Simply prize off a ruby and send your footman in to get the goods. The more jewelled of buckles were also, of course, very attractive. Probably a tad on the expensive side for your average punter, but upon the dainty foot of an eligible damsel…irresistible. Rich and pretty, what more could a man want in a bride? 

Woman's shoe buckles with paste stones 1780-85

Ladies’s shoe buckles with paste stones 1780-85
Public Doman via Wikimedia Commons

But, it was not just the women who buckled themselves in for the ride. Men too attempted to seduce the opposite sex with the sight of a buckled shoe. If you thought Mr Darcy looked good in a white shirt, imagine what would have happened if you had caught a glimpse of his buckles. I can hear Caroline Bingley drooling already. Naughty!

All in all it seems likely that whilst we have been lacing our shoes for millennia, the modern shoelace that we don today began it’s life on the 27th March 1790. A poor substitute for the dazzling buckle or cave string it may have been, but far more practical. I imagine we shall be seeing much more of the humble shoelace in years to come. Enjoy your shoelaces today, one and all. Perhaps this is the cue for me to lace up my trainers and head out for a run…urgh! 

© Isla Robertson 2017