Fashion for pointy shoes unleashed a wave of bunions in medieval England

  • Jenna Dittmar
  • Piers D Mitchell

Press/Media: Articles in 'The Conversation'

Description

The 14th century saw the arrival of an abundance of new styles of dress and footwear in Europe, coming in a wide range of fabrics and colours. Among these new fashion trends were “poulaines” – rather eccentric-looking medieval shoes with a lengthy pointed tip.

The archaeological and the historical record suggests that this new fashion item was widely adopted by England’s medieval society and that, by the late 14th century, almost every type of shoe was at least slightly pointed, even in children. Shoe pointiness would eventually became so extreme that in 1463 King Edward IV passed a law limiting toe-point length to less than two inches within London.

The adoption of this latest flavour of footwear was not without its risks. Our research, conducted on medieval human skeletal remains from Cambridge in England, shows that hallux valgus of the big toe – commonly know as bunions – was surprisingly widespread at the time.

Period11 Jun 2021

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