Shoes: Pleasure and Pain

The name of V&A‘s new fashion exhibition is Shoes: Pleasure and Pain. However, all I’ve seen was the pain. Not because the halls were to crowded for a summer day, but because the majority of the 200 pair of shoes revealed how willingly men and women hurt themselves only to stand out.

A pair of tiny baby shoes illustrated Chinese tradition of foot binding, so women could have smaller delicate feet. Sky high ‘flatforms’ worn by Geishas limited their movements and allowed men to observe them more attentively on the streets.

Chinese binding shoes - 19th century

Chinese binding shoes – 19th century

Japan, 1920

Japan, 1920

On the west side of the globe, high born women had ‘stay-at-home’ shoes, so fragile that couldn’t survive outside. The shoes, then, symbolised their status in a time when work was shameful. For the same purposes, noblemen chose to wear pointy shoes that made impossible to walk on the streets for more than a few steps. The pain is also associated with high-heels reputation for being sexy. The notion became popular in the naughties 1890’s and perpetuates until modern days.

Visitors have the chance to glance at the Alexander McQueen shoes made famous after Naomi Campbell fall on the runway, Beckham’s football shoes and even Cinderella’s famous crystal heels.


Alexander McQueen, 1993

The exhibition ends with a glimpse of the future with the first 3D printed pairs.

3D Printed Shoes

3D Printed Shoes

By the end of the tour, I was even more appreciative of my trainers than before.

Downside of the exhibition: there was little logic behind the display making it difficult for visitors to understand the historical context. Next time, let’s just stick to the good and old chronological order, ok?


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