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Chopines: Renaissance platform shoes popularly worn in Venice by both courtesans and patrician women

Marija Georgievska

Chopines are platform shoes that were worn by women in the 15th, 16th and 17th century. Made with a very tall wooden platform, these shoes protected the dress from mud and street dust. They became very popular in Venice and were worn by noble women and courtesans.

The size of the chopines was made according to the status of the wearer. If the platform was made very tall, that meant that the wearer is one of a high social status. The women’s feet were secured to the platform with straps made of leather or silk. When women wore chopines, they needed the support of their maids or husbands to walk the streets of Venice.

Highly decorated Venetian chopines  Photo Credit

Highly decorated Venetian chopines  Photo Credit

 

Some of the chopines were made up to 20 inches  Photo Credit

Some of the chopines were made up to 20 inches  Photo Credit

In the 15th century, the Venetian law reduced this height to three inches but, this regulation was ignored. They were often made to match the dress, and the top was always hidden under the skirts. The interesting part is that women who wore them were unstable and walked very funny.

Fabritio Caroso, an Italian dancing master, wrote that if women practiced enough how to wear the shoes, they could move with grace and beauty and even dance in them.

If the platform was made very tall, that meant that the wearer was one of a high social status Photo Credit

If the platform was made very tall, that meant that the wearer was one of a high social status Photo Credit

 

The origin of this footwear is unknown Photo Credit

The origin of this footwear is unknown Photo Credit

 

A chopine exhibited in the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto  Photo Credit

A chopine exhibited in the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto  Photo Credit

 Besides Italy, the chopines were also popular in Spain in the 15th century.

Many scholars argue that these shoes were actually designed in Spain and that there are references to them from the 14th century. The difference between the Spanish and the Venetian chopines is that in Spain they were made more simple and symmetric and were worn as actual accessories of the dress, while in Venice were more artistically carved and were worn like undergarments.

However, the shoes were neither Italian nor Spanish invention. They were brought in Venice through the trades with Southwest Asia. Their true origin is unknown, but they are very similar to the Turkish and Greek tall clogs that were worn in bathhouses and on stage by actors.

Besides Italy, they were also popular in Turkey, China and Greece Photo Credit

Besides Italy, they were also popular in Turkey, China and Greece Photo Credit

 

Reconstruction of a Venetian chopine  Photo Credit

Reconstruction of a Venetian chopine  Photo Credit

 

They went out of style when the heeled footwear became more popular  Photo Credit

They went out of style when the heeled footwear became more popular  Photo Credit

They were also popular among the Roman women who were inspired by the Greek and the Chinese in the 17th century, where the pedestals were much slimmer than those in Venice.

Read another story from us: “Oxfords not Brogues”: the origins of the leather footwear

Sometimes, they were considered as tools which kept the women home so they wouldn’t wander and ruin their morality. The chopines went out of style in the 17th century when the high-heeled footwear became more popular. This footwear came from the Near East and was first adopted by men.