If you have ever visited the Netherlands, you might have
noticed those cute looking wooden shoes everywhere, being sold as footwear or
simply as souvenirs and key-chains. You can see people in old photos wearing
them and you can see them hanging from different places, such as traditional
restaurants. Have you ever thought about what they are called, what are they
being used for and what is their history? Are they exclusively Dutch
traditional footwear or is there something more to them?
So here is what we know about them so far.
These shoes are called “Clogs” or “Klompen” in Dutch, and they are completely made from wood. They do come in various shapes and sizes depending on the country and culture they originate from, however, their shape usually stays the same for centuries within a certain culture. Even today, they are still being traditionally used as protective footwear in agriculture and in some factories and mines, but in more recent times, they have retained new, rather fashionable use. For example, the Swedish träskor and the Japanese geta are being used as a fashion statement. You can also see them being used in several dance styles, and they are considered to be one of the fundamental roots of tap dancing.
Even though their history can not be precisely determined,
some historians believe they draw origin from the high, thick-soled boots worn
by the Greek tragedy actors in Antiquity, as well as the shoes worn by Roman
soldiers, but there is also a theory that Celtic and Germanic peoples from
Southern and Northern Europe had also been using some sort of wooden foot
covering. Determining their origin is a difficult task, as wooden footwear
would often end up as firewood when worn off and what has been left unburnt has
probably rotten away.
The oldest surviving wooden footwear in Europe, dating from 1230 and 1280, was discovered in Amsterdam and Rotterdam and looks very similar to the clogs that are still worn in The Netherlands. The shoes were made of alder wood and findings prove they used to be made in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on who would wear them. Both men and women wore clogs, some had rounded edges while others had pointed toes to help fishermen pull their nets in.
Traditional clogs are made out of one piece of wood and back in the day, they were supposed to protect the foot from dirt and sand.
The craftsmen who made these clogs were called “bodgers”, and the process of making the clogs is called “bodging”. The bodgers would use alder, balsa, willow, beech, and sycamore wood, as they are wood types which do not split easily. The skilled craftsmen would make the clogs by hand, but today they are machine mass-produced. However, if you want to see what the process looked like, there’s a place near Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans, where people hand-craft clogs in an old traditional manner.