Clip, clop, clip, clop...clogs. Almost no other shoe has such a fanatic following as the wooden-soled clog. While most people think of it as the backless, leather upper style, or the traditional enclosed wooden Klompen boats from Holland, or even the sassy Dr. Scholl exercise sandal, the truth is that any molded wooden sole is a clog.
The solid, shaped sole of a clog was one of the first styles of enclosed shoes. The ancient Romans fashioned leather sandals out of wooden soles and leather strips, and the Chinese also had their version of wooden shoes. But our first ‘modern’ knowledge of wooden shoes is seen in the Middle Ages. Pointy-toed, wood bottomed shoes called ‘pattens’ popped up in paintings by Flemish artist Pietro de Brueghal as early as 1550. These wooden clogs had extremely pointed toes, and would not have been a practical choice for the peasant worker. Pattens were for the aristocratic class—people who could get away with foot-long points protruding from their toes.
Traditional Dutch clogs were made from soft, young poplar trees that were flexible and easy to shape. After blocks are cut from the tree, the shoe is crudely block-shaped and whittled both inside and out to create a shoe of solid wood. The average man’s clogs were like the upturned toe clogs we still see today. One legends holds that they were originally fisherman’s shoes: the ultimate in waterproof, durable footwear, these Klompen—as the wooden shoes were called—featured an upturned toe. It seems that the upturned toe assisted in untangling the fisherman’s nets with the help of a sturdy toe hook that would grasp onto the slippery nets. Whether they were made for fishermen or farmers, the wooden sole clog was a good insulator and a sturdy shoe for working in the marshy soil. These small smooth shoes were for the working man, a practical footwear for all kinds of work and weather.
Clogs stepped onto the international scene in the 60’s and remain a shoe staple today, both in and out of fashion. While girls (and the occasional boy) of today have neither marshy soil nor fishing nets to contend with, they love their clogs just the same. In many areas, kids and adults still slide the wood to their feet and clip-clop dance in a style known as ‘clogging.’ The clog has even made an appearance in the operating room as a comfortable and durable choice for doctors who stand on their feet all day.
Several modern styles exist, all looking a little different: the leather-upper mule style, the slip-on Dr. Scholl style, and even Candies’ red-hot disco slide could be considered a clog. Basically, if you’re balanced on a block of wood, and it's clip-clopping down the road as you walk…well, it's a clog.
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