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Introduction | Height of the Soles | Comments | Prostitutes | British Parliament | The Fashion Fades


Velvet Chopine from Venice, 1560 It's odd to think that the platform sole was popular in the 1600s. When people think of platform shoes, they tend to think of the wild disco filled '70s, or maybe or the foot high vinyl sneakers they may see on today's ravers. When we think of the 1600s, we might mistake that era for the Victorian era with women wearing skirts that billow out making it hard to even walk through a door. But in the late 1400s to the mid 1600s the platform sole reached immense popularity. The platform shoe of the 1400-1600s was called the chopine, "an overshoe" that slipped over a more dainty shoe, protecting it from mud or dirt.1

Height of the Soles

Venetian velvet chopine with wooden sole, 1600 The chopine made it's major fashion appearance in the 15th Century. It's design began much like that picture to the right. It is usually designed with cork or wood stacked as the sole, with a velvet coat. The Venetians made the platform sole into a status symbol, revealing wealth and social standing for women. As some of these women strode down the streets, needing assistance of course because some of the soles reached up to 30 inches high (!), they were laughed at for the shoe's impracticality and general awkwardness.2 Despite some of the negative reactions to the shoes it seems obvious that the women who wore them felt the need to elevate themselves from the rest of the world and walk on a platform shoe that recognized their stature as the high and mighty.

Shoes are the exclamation point
at the end of the fashion statement.10

-Laurie Schecter


The outrageousness of the chopines were frequently remarked of in the writings of many visitors and tourists of Venice. One visitor "suggested that the chopine had been invented by jealous Italian husbands who hoped that the cumbersome movement it entailed would make illict liasons difficult".3 This aspect of domination and submission wrapped up in inability to walk echos the style of fetish and lotus shoes. Interesting-- although fetish and lotus shoes tend to be less gigantic but certainly obtrusive to walking ability.

The chopine even made it into Hamlet: "By'r lady, your ladyship is nearer to heaven than when I saw you last, by the altitude of a chopine." 4 Even the literary master Shakespeare dropped a comment on the excessive heights. The Spanish Archpriest of Talavera demeaned platformed chopines in 1438 by name calling the women who wore them as "depraved and dissolute women." 5 Similarly, Thomas Coryate's opinion in Crudities (1611), stated: "so uncomely a thing, in my opinion, that is a pity this foolsh custom is not clean banished".6 With any kind of new and extreme style there was bound to be some controversy and scandal attached to it, but women seemed conscious of the irregularity of the chopine outside of Venice and often refused to have their portraits painted while wearing them or while traveling abroad.7

To achieve harmony in bad taste is the height of elegance.8

-Jean Genet
The Theif's Journal


Venetian prostitutes often wore chopines. The platform shoes elevated the prostitutes, who often lingered in dark doorways waiting for potential customers, to a height which would make them noticeable.9

British Parliament

Be it resolved that all women, of whatever age, rank, profession, or degree; whether virgin maids or widows; that shall after the passing of this Act, impose upon and betray into matrimony any of His Majesty's male subjects, by scents, paints,cosmetics, washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes, or bolstered hips, shall incur the penalty of the laws now in force against witchcraft, sorcery, and such like misdemeanours, and that the marriage, upon conviction, shall stand null and void.

Act of Parliament, 1670

The Fashion Fades

Venetian chopine, 1600 The popularity of the "walking footstools" spread throughout Europe, particularly to France and England. But about 200 years later, women and fashion designers realized that it would probably be easier to create a heel and lower the sole of the platform. Hence, the popularity of these incredible chopines died and the flatter, more practical shoe took over. Overall however, the platformed chopines in the 1400s to 1600s were one of the most adventurous embarkments of the platform shoe as far as the height of the sole and the attitude its wearer.

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