A brief history

Dutch girls wearing wooden shoes. Marken Island, around 1890

Dutch girls wearing wooden shoes. Marken Island, around 1890

Wooden Shoes? A typical Dutch heritage? Probably there is not one person who can give us a solid answer to that question. Through the ages, wooden shoes were found all over the European mainland, from the Scandinavian countries up north to the Mediterranean south. Some even claim that it were the French who invented the wooden footwear. Fact is, that nowadays wooden shoes are a true symbol for Holland, just as much as windmills, tulips and cheese.

Middle Ages

One says wooden shoes date back to the Middle Ages. However, this is not an undisputable truth. Because they are made out of trees, Mother Nature has taken most of the ‘old’ pieces back to herself. In the Netherlands the oldest wooden shoe ever found dates from 1230 ad. This shoe was found in 1979 by the Nieuwendijk, a historic street downtown Amsterdam. Another antique wooden shoe was found in 1990 in the dam that was built to close Rotterdam’s Rotte river. This wooden shoe, dating from 1280, can be seen at the Schielandshuis in Rotterdam. Both wooden shoes were made from alder. We can conclude with certainty that wooden shoes are worn for over 800 years, and probably even longer. Until the Middle Ages, it was quite common that people lived their lives walking on bear feet. Especially in the countryside shoes were out of reach for most people. Shoes were worn by the elitists. To protect their valuable shoes one used the so-called ‘trippen’ or ‘platijnen’. Trippen were wooden soles having two bulges at the bottom and two triangle-shaped pieces of leather on top for attachment, showing resemblances with sandals. Trippen might well have been the predecessors of wooden shoes, or ‘klompen’, as the footwear is called in Dutch. Anyhow, wooden shoes gained in popularity ever since the beginning of the 16th century. Because wooden shoes are made out of one piece, they proved to be a firm, practical and relatively cheap alternative. They protected the feet from dirt and formed a useful additive in the moistures Dutch climate.

1900’s till now

Wooden shoes made today differ little from their ancestors 800 years ago. However, incongruent with some existing presuppositions stressing that wooden shoes are still widely used in Holland, they are being worn less and less through the decades. After 1890, the flourish of industrial shoe manufacturers incited a negative trend in the demand for wooden shoes. Merely the breakout of both World Wars derived short periods of revival. Leather shoes became scarce, thus wooden shoes emerged as substitutes. Until after World War II, almost every village bore its own wooden shoe maker, resulting in a variety of styles, colors, carvings and decorations. In general, one had plain wooden shoes for the working days and painted ones for Sundays. Men’s wooden shoes usually were black or yellow, whilst those of women were lacquered blank or had elaborate decorational motifs. But it wasn’t until 1920 that one started to paint the garment. Before, neat wooden shoes were smoothed and finished with carvings, also differing from region to region. Also it was not unusual that shapes altered for the different sexes.

Thus, not too long ago gross of the population possessed wooden shoes and had them on on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the wearer of wooden shoes is becoming an endangered species today. Wooden shoes are merely seen on the countryside, used by gardeners, farmers, blacksmiths. fishermen, masons and road workers. Luckily, wooden shoe manufacturers are still active at present, adopting contemporary techniques whereas respecting the artisan craft.

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