Whilst footwear is often just a fashion statement, if you can discover the traditional footwear in the country that you are visiting, it will give you an insight into that country’s culture. Many types of footwear have evolved to meet the needs of the people and although you may not want to wear the boots or shoes yourself, they will certainly make an unusual and much-admired souvenir!
1. Treat yourself to some wooden Dutch klompen
Dutch wooden clogs have been worn since Medieval times and were originally made with a leather top and wooden sole but later were made entirely from wood – usually alder or willow. Each clog is carved out of a single piece of wood and variations were made in France where they were called sabot. Clogs are very practical for walking across dirty fields and for protecting feet from something falling on them. If worn with a pair of thick socks, clogs are surprisingly comfortable and are still popular in the Netherlands with farmers and gardeners. There are beautifully painted and decorated pairs on sale, that make perfect souvenirs to take home and plain wooden ones can also be bought, that can be taken home to wear!
2. Look out for Bast shoes in Finland
These shoes are actually popular in several countries (including Russia) that have wide areas of forest but are particularly popular in Finland. Bast shoes are actually bark shoes that are made from the bark of birch or linden trees. The shoes are used making a special weaving/ plaiting technique. They are very cheap and relatively comfortable as they can be worn on feet bound with cloth or they can be worn as overshoes. Bast shoes are very effective at protecting the feet from mud and snow. The big disappointment is that this type of shoe only lasts for a maximum of one week!
3. Keep your toes snug with some reindeer boots!
Saami reindeer boots can be found all over Scandinavia. These boots are very distinctive looking with toes that curl upwards which apparently makes them easy to wear with skis! Saami are made from reindeer fur so they really are warm to wear and are named after the indigenous Saami people who first made them. The boots are made by specialists as there is an art in their construction. The skin from the forehead of a reindeer is used for the soles of the boots, whilst skin from the legs of the animal is used for the uppers of the boots. The Saami are tied using colored ribbons and the colors used denote the sex of the wearer or the region they live in. The most popular ribbon colors are blue, green, and red.
4. Wear some distinctive Tsarouhi
These very distinctive shoes, decorated with extra-large pompoms, are a familiar sight as they are worn by soldiers of the Greek guard – the Evzonas – as part of their uniform. The shoes are often worn by folk dancers too. This style of footwear was widely worn until the 19th century and the shoes were made by hand, in soft leather with a pointed toe. Apart from always being decorated with a large pompom, Tsarouhi is often decorated with handmade lace and embroidery.
5. Slip-on some Indian Khussa
Elegant and pretty, khussa have been worn in numerous Asian countries since the 17th century. These beautiful shoes are totally made by hand in the softest leather. There is no right or left shoe and certainly no sizes, as the craftsman will make them measure to fit your foot. Khussa is often richly embellished with gems, beads, and embroidery so that they look rich and ornate for special occasions.
6. Get curious glances wearing Tabi boots
These unusual boots were invented in Japan 100 years ago and are based on the same idea as the ‘tabi’ sock- split-toe socks. Tabi boots are long tight and light fitting boots. The upper of the boot is made from leather or rubber and has ‘split toes’ and the sole is made from soft, really flexible rubber. It is amazing to watch people who are accustomed to wearing Tabi boots, as they use their feet like extra hands and can even hold objects between their toes! Tabi boots are popular with farmers and construction workers for this very reason!
7. Try wearing some Japanese Geta
These are traditionally styled wooden slip-on sandals that often have two strips of wood across the sole to form a platform that raises the sandal off the ground. The platform is for very practical reasons because Geta are the traditional footwear worn with a kimono or yukata and there is no point wearing an expensive outfit like this and having it trailing in the dirt. Geta are popular in summer as they are cool to wear. They are completely open and just have a V-shaped cloth thong between the toes. Geta can be worn by both men and women, but are slightly different shapes – rectangular for men and oval for women. During the winter months, Geta are worn with the traditional split-toe socks.
8. Put on Mexican pointy boots to dance
Very smart ankle boots with exceptionally long pointy toes are all the fashion in Mexico! The fashion started a few years ago in Matehuala and has moved across the country – proving very popular with young men who like dancing to electronic music and musicians that enjoy playing it! The boots have really elongated toes that can measure nearly a meter in length and curl upwards towards the knee. As well as plain colored boots, there are glittery pairs and others decorated with colored stones, chips of mirror, and LED lights.
9. Buy some beautiful Moroccan Babouche
Babouche is elegant slip-on slippers with intricate stitch work. They are comfortable to wear as they are crafted in soft leather of goatskin, sheepskin, cowhide, or camel hide. Babouche can be easily bought in any of the markers in Morocco. Babouche is distinctively styled as they have no back to the shoe as it has been folded flat inside the shoe as this makes the slip-on style easier to take off at prayer time. It is worn by both men and women and is available in every color imaginable. They are often richly decorated with sequins, jewelry, and embroidery.
10. Shoes you can barely feel
Vibram Five-Fingers has been described as ‘foot like gloves’. This type of shoe is not traditional in any way, but certainly makes a fun and practical souvenir if you can find a pair to buy! Five Fingers are minimalist shoes, very light to wear with flexible soles and space for each toe – just like a glove. This style of shoe was first designed for yacht racers as they enabled the racers to stand steadily on the deck- even in the roughest seas. Since then, the shoes have gained popularity, not only with all types of yachtsmen but runners and wall climbers too.