Why did people in the Middle Ages wear long, pointed shoes?

Named after the Polish city of Cracow (Cracow), the shoes were worn by anyone in Europe who could afford them. They were usually stuffed with foam and other types of filling to keep their shape, so they didn’t fall apart, reports The Met. They often featured decorative elements and embossing and were usually made of leather, but other materials were also used in their construction.

Style of the rich and famous

However, shoes with extra-long spikes were generally relegated to wealthier people who could afford to walk around in such impractical shoes, according to Atlas Obscura. Essentially, shoes were a status symbol for the wealthy, much like private jets, yachts, and expensive watches are today.

Krakow Foals

A 1447 painting depicting nobles wearing poulaines.

The length of a person’s shoe spikes basically showed how rich they were. The shoes with ridiculously long toes were exorbitantly priced and would prevent the user from doing any type of manual work. Sometimes the men would use whalebone or attach string or gold or silver chains to their knees from the shoes to prevent them from tripping, according to FIT. The colt showed that the wearer lived a life of leisure.

Other reasons for the popularity of the Poulaine

Worn largely by men, though some women as well, crakows could be very sexy as they were low cut and showed off a man’s ankles in an era when they wore shorter tunics and revealed more of their legs.

Jackie Keily, senior curator at the Museum of London, which houses a large collection of poulaines, told Atlas Obscura the shoes became popular shortly after the Black Death, or bubonic plague, killed an estimated 25 million people. This type of “retail therapy” may have been a coping mechanism in response to so many tragedies.

Illustrations of shoes

Different styles of crakows worn in 15th century Europe.

But why have they been popular for so long?

One of the reasons why the fashion trend has lasted so long is that in the Middle Ages, it took a long time for trends to find their way into various cities and countries. After all, people didn’t have television or social media to influence their clothing choices. Instead, a trend would develop in the upper class and eventually descend to the lower classes. It could be many years before a popular fad hits rural communities.

Instead of simply going out of fashion in England, the colt found her end in the court of King Edward IV. This was partly due to the salacious undertones of the shoes, as some believed that the longer the spikes on the toes, the fatter her you-know-what. The poulaine was considered indecent and a law was passed in 1463 prohibiting shoe ends longer than two inches. Paris had previously banned them in 1368, following the instructions of King Charles V, because it would have made it difficult for those who wore them to kneel down to pray. By 1475 they were out of fashion.

Lasting impressions

Interestingly, there was a resurgence in England in the 1950s, although pointed shoes were nicknamed the winklepicker. These shoes weren’t as obnoxiously pointed as the poulaine, but they had similar padding in the points to resemble the shoes favored by medieval nobility.


By Noelle Talmon, Contributor for Ripleys.com

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