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Episode 89: The Stories in Shoes

“Fashion is universal,” writes my guest Kimberly Alexander in her book Treasures Afoot, “enabling historians across time, place, and culture to form an understanding of the people who made clothes and who wore them. But shoes are different. As shoe scholar June Swann opines, ‘No other garment or accessory maintains the imprint of its wearer–even over long spans of time.’ A shoe molds to the foot and captures a facet of the physical characteristics of its wearer, as well as, by extension, an element of his or her personal history. We can study how much wear occurred and on what part of the shoe, how a shoe was altered or repaired, why a shoe or a pair of shoes were saved and handed down–and, from this, form a idea of the ordinary lives of the people who wore them.”

Together Kimberly and I discuss shoes of the eighteenth century; why shoes are important; why fashion is important; and even how to talk about material culture in class.


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