I’m sure it would be no great challenge for Worn Through readers to call to mind some extreme feminine fashions that both epitomise their eras, and have enjoyed occasional recurrences in modern styles. A corset here, a leg’o’mutton sleeve there, whether as an ironic homage or adapted “improved” new version. However, it is a bit more difficult to cite similar examples of historic men’s fashions that see similar revivals. Mainly because while womenswear changes swiftly and recylcles even some of the most abhorrent fashion traits, menswear largely errs on the side of caution. It would be fair to say we do not expect the cod piece or slash-and-puff breeches to make a strong comeback any time soon – or at all. However, we may need to change our minds after learning more about a “micro-trend” of the moment in Matehuala, Mexico, that sees young men sporting highly decorative cowboys boots with extremely long and pointed toes. This story was reported widely in the mainstream media of the UK this week and The Guardian online featured a slideshow photo essay of the shoes. Despite all the somewhat mocking media attention, the similarity of these hyperbolic contemporary shoes to the poulaines of Medieval Europe has been largely unexplored except by referring to them as ‘jester shoes.’
Indeed these shoes resemble both aesthetically, and ideologically to some extent , the long-toed poulaines or krackowes that were sported largely by fashionable English men in the fifteenth century.
Then as now, the length and shape of these shoes was a sign of male virility, and in both moments, the shoes are paired with form-fitting trousers (medieval woven leggings vs. skinny jeans) to further emphasize the length of the toes.
This is an exciting development for aficionadoes and researchers of both historic and contemporary subcultural fashion, and in my somewhat brief investigation on the topic online, I find the topic resplendent with points for discourse and discovery.
Not only the link with history, but also the rise and dissemination of a relatively obscure trend as made possible by internet technology is fascinating. The video below gives a concise overview of the trend and its links with music and dance fads and presents the phenomenon through interviews with the wearers and makers of the shoes. There are many fantastic examples of the shoes in the film and opportunities to see them in motion at dance competitions and in clubs. It made me wonder what the medieval poulaines would have looked like whizzing across the hall at court banquets, but alas, we must use our imaginations where YouTube is sure to fail us.
After watching this video, I felt certain that this is a worthy topic for a PhD, or at least an in-depth journal article or lecture. (Although with over 100,000 views so far, I am surely not the first to receive this inspiration!) After watching it the second time, I thought that booking a trip to Mexico to see the shoes up close, and to experience the excitement of the dances would surely be necessary, and started looking for affordable tickets. I queued up the video a third time, but got distracted by doodling myself a design for a pair in purple metallic leather encrusted with black Swarovski crystals….