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History of the Slipper September 10 2013

As the longest day has come and gone and the Autumn evenings start to draw in, we slip off our shoes for more comfy, warm shoes, “Slippers” or what my mum calls them “House Shoes” are favoured as we begin to settle in for cosy nights with the central heating cranked up full blast, racking up that Gas bill during the long (and they are in the UK) winter months.  But slippers aren't just things for the Winter, slippers can be worn in the Summer too and if you’re like me, I can’t stand having cold feet so I have slippers for all seasons.

These Chinese slippers are by Beverly Feldman.

The word comes from the verb “to slip”.  It is thought that slippers were originally from the East but they have been worn by every culture.  The earliest recorded reference to the slipper was is in the 12th Century by a Southern Song Dynasty Officer where he describes two types of slipper he saw in what is now Vietnam.  These slippers had a thong to fit between the toes or a leather strap across the foot and the outsoles would have been made of leather.  In the West, slippers were first recorded around 1478.

In the East, the slipper was a symbol of captivity.  A Sultan’s harem would wear them for indoors making it easy to slip the shoes on and off before stepping on expensive Persian carpets.  The slippers were very soft and comfortable and for indoors use, therefore, a concubine wouldn’t have been able to make a break for freedom in them as they were too thin and slippery for the hard rocky roads outside.

In certain cultures, such as Japan, it is a social obligation to remove shoes and wear slippers when entering a place of residence. This is due to tradition and respect for the house.  The Meiji period (1868-1912) was one of unprecedented transformation that was to affect all areas of life, including clothing.  During this time, special slippers were created for foreigners to pull over their shoes as the Japanese were accustomed to taking off their shoes and donning slippers indoors but their Western friends were not, hence the invention.  The Japanese also have toilet slippers, which you put on before you enter the toilet and you slip off after you leave so you must leave the toilet as you entered as the slippers are meant to face the toilet!  Although I've been told that this not a common practice.

Geta Slippers, Japan - Photograph: Gavin Hellier

By the mid-16th Century most wealthy men wore slippers made of soft Leather, Silk or Velvet, often in patterns that matched their outfit.  Don’t forget, men in those days were more dandier than the women!  Women also adopted an extremely impractical form of shoe called the “Chopine”.  These slippers sat atop a platform that ran the length of the shoe and could be as high as twenty-four inches! As a consequence, chopines were very difficult to walk in.  Both men and women used ribbons, bows, and jewels to decorate their shoes.  Of course, such shoes were not intended for outdoor wear and both sexes wore overshoes called “Pattens” and “Pantofles” to protect their dainty shoes if they did go outside in them. 

Italian 16th Century Slipper, Leather - Photograph: www.metmuseum.org

The Victorian era, saw the “Prince Albert Slipper”, so called after Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert.  These shoes were a velvet slipper with a quilted silk lining and leather outsole.  They were first worn by English aristocracy when Black tie dress for dinner was required by standards of etiquette and they would don velvet smoking jackets with a cravat and coordinating Prince Albert slippers.  Eventually, this custom moved outside the home to clubs and smoking rooms.  Nowadays, these slippers are known as “Smoking Slippers” and are worn by both men and women, sometimes worn informally outside.

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Smoking Slippers - Hmm, I don't think I'll be wearing these ones outside, what do you think?

Today, slippers come in many styles, Slip-On Slippers, Boot Slippers, Novelty Slippers and Moccasin Slippers.  They can be made from different types of materials from leather, suede, wool to manmade materials with outsoles being made from again a variety of different materials like leather, rubber or EVA.


Slipper Trivia
  • Apparently, Cinderella didn't loose a Glass Slipper, there are over 500 versions of the tale in scores of languages, the earliest version dating back to 9th Century China.  The slipper was never made of Glass but of Gold or Silver and sometimes embellished with gems.  The story as we know it is a result of a translator error.
  • Until the first half of the 20th Century, it was customary for pilgrims having an audience with the Pope to kneel and kiss one off his Red Papal slippers.
  • On 30 June 2007, Derek “The Slipper Man” holds the Guinness World Record for wearing a pair of slippers for 23 straight years!!!
  • A pair of Red test slippers for "The Wizard of Oz" from the Hollywood collection of actress Debbie Reynolds sold for $612,000 in May 2011.  (I think I need to get my hands on pair of these slippers so I can flog ‘em and live the life of Riley!)
  • "The Ruby Slippers" worn by Judy Garland in the “The Wizard of Oz” sold for a record $2 Million in May 2012.
  • In 2013, a Scottish university found a delicate pair of slippers that had been sitting unnoticed in its collection for more than a century may have actually belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte's sister, Princess Pauline Borghese.  The narrow silk and leather shoes, which measured just 1.5 inches across the toes and about 4 inches long (UK Childs Size 2), were marked on the outsole "Pauline Rome."

Not really the Ruby Slipper but a cupcake made for my Niece Lucy's birthday!