Best Foot Forward:

Westwood vs. Pattens!

Written by Victoria Green


‘Shoes must have very high heels and platforms to put women’s beauty on a pedestal’.

– Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood is certainly known for breaking fashion rules and creating the unorthodox. In particular, Westwood’s shoes are known for being extreme and provocative, from fetish wear in the 1970s to those shoes, a.k.a. the Super Elevated Gillies worn by Naomi Campbell in 1993. With an extraordinary 9” heel, it’s perhaps no surprise that she fell over on the catwalk!

The Westwood shoe held in the National Leather Collection has a comparatively modest 3.5 inch wooden sole with a cutout beneath the heel. This ‘rocking horse’ platform shoe is perhaps one of Westwood’s most recognisable footwear silhouettes, and was originally created to achieve poise and elevation. Interestingly enough, this particular shoe was made using local leather, purchased from W. Pearce & Co. of Northampton. It shows off a more playful side to leather than many are used to, a vibrant twist on the everyday sneaker.

© National Leather Collection 2018

Vivienne Westwood ‘rocking horse’ shoes

© National Leather Collection 2018

Vivienne Westwood ‘rocking horse’ shoes

Some believe that when it comes to heels, the higher the better. Vivienne Westwood included. But why is this? Perhaps for the simple fact that the wearer is elevated from the ground.

The ‘rocking horse’ shoe is inspired by the Japanese okobo, a traditional hybrid of flip-flops and clogs. Okobo are most commonly worn by Geisha as the high, platform soles prevent the hem of kimono from getting wet and dirty. Furthermore according to Sayuri in Memoirs of a Geisha, okobo force the wearer to take very small steps, which maintains the rippling movement of the kimono hem, giving the impression that she glides rather than walks.

Indeed the European version of okobo is the (arguably more practical) patten, intended to protect the wearer’s shoes and clothes from the filthy streets. If you lived in rural areas, your enemy was rutted, muddy roads. If you were a city-goer, then it was horse dung and chamber-pot detritus. Pattens were worn in Europe as early as the 12th Century, and begin to appear in paintings from the 15th Century. They varied in shape and design, but most commonly appear as an iron ring riveted to a piece of wood, and strapped to the underside of a shoe. One of the pairs in the National Leather Collection dates back to 1840, and features velvet-lined leather tabs.

Traditional Japanese okobo

© National Leather Collection 2018

A pair of pattens; English, c.1840

Despite popular misconceptions, pattens were not actually as common amongst the upper class as they were amongst the working class, who walked rather than rode. Jane Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen Leigh wrote of his aunts in A Memoir of Jane Austen, and makes reference to their wearing of pattens:

“The other peculiarity was that when the roads were dirty, the sisters took long walks in pattens. The defence against wet and dirt is now seldom seen. The few that remain are banished from good society and employed only in menial work …”

In fact, pattens had a pretty poor reputation and had been banned from churches as early as 1390. The Diocese of York forbade clergy from wearing pattens in church and processions, declaring them to be indecorous. During the 18th Century a notice in St. Margaret Pattens, the Guild Church of the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers, requested that ladies remove their pattens upon entry. The most likely reason for the exclusion of pattens in these holy places is simply the clinking noise that they made upon contact with the stone floors. Pattens were also wrapped up in social etiquette; to talk excessively and too loudly was to have your “tongue run on pattens”, a phrase used by Shakespeare and other contemporaries. Not to mention the fact that pattens were to be taken off at the door to prevent mud being carried inside the house; to forget to do so was a real faux pas.

Although the Vivienne Westwood ‘rocking horse’ shoe and 1840s patten are literally over a century apart, they provide yet another example of how the historical continues to influence the modern.

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