You won’t see many people wearing clogs in Amsterdam, but
they are still an important part of Dutch culture.
Whatever you may think of them, traditional Dutch wooden
shoes or clogs (klompen), are an important part of Dutch heritage and are still
worn in rural parts of the country today. Dutch language has many idiomatic
expressions associated with wooden shoes. Clogs are still popular with people
working in agriculture as they’re great for walking on muddy ground and can
easily be removed. Dutch clogs are made from different types of wood – poplar
and willow being favourites – and are often painted.
Traditional hand-crafted wooden shoes
Clogs have long been worn by workers as protective clothing.
In fact, clogs have even been certified by the European Union as safety shoes
as they can withstand sharp and heavy objects and concentrated acids.
Traditionally, skilled artisans made them by hand. As you can imagine, it’s
quite a job to hand-carve an identical pair of wooden shoes, but professionals
could produce up to seven pairs a day! These days clogs are machine-made but at
the Zaanse Schans, just a short trip outside Amsterdam, you can still see
wooden shoes being crafted by hand.
History of clogs
As wooden shoes were used to fuel the fireplace once they
were worn-out, it proved difficult fot historians to precisely date the origins
of clogs. Nevertheless, they estimate that the first clogs appeared at least
850 years ago and the oldest wooden shoe known was found in the Nieuwendijk in
Amsterdam. This clog dates from around the year 1230 and is made of alder wood.
The shoes were made in a variety of
shapes and sizes depending on who would wear them. Some had rounded edges while
others had pointed toes to help fishermen pull their nets in.
About six million souvenir clogs are produced in the
Netherlands each year, so you're sure to find just the right pair to take home!
A Brief History
Ever since man came down from the trees, and stood on a
thorn, he has tried to protect his feet from the wear and tear of everyday
life. He would have used materials that were to hand. Skins and bark would have
been the logical first choice, but you can bet that slats of wood held in place
by thonging or something similar won't have been far behind. Wood has real
advantages, it lasts a long time, keeps the feet dry as it doesn't hold
moisture, wood insulates the foot from the cold ground. In England for at least
the past eight hundred years this type of footwear was known as
"Pattens" they were usually worn over leather or fabric shoes to
raise the wearer's foot above the mud of the unmade road. Poorer people who
couldn't afford shoes wore wood directly against the skin, and so developed the
clog, for several hundred years the words were interchangeable. In different
parts of Europe people came up with similar solutions for similar problems
hence the Choppino in Italy the Sabot in France and Belgium, the Klomp and
Galoche there are dozens of variations.
The wearing of clogs in Britain really took off with the
Industrial Revolution, workers in the mills, mines, iron, steel, and chemical
works, workshops and factories needed strong cheap footwear. The heyday of the
clog in Britain was between the 1840's and 1920's, they were worn all over the
country, not just in the industrial north of England. The decline set in during
the depression of the 1930's and apart from a brief revival during the second
world war when leather was in short supply, it has been downhill ever since.
Working class people associated wearing clogs with poverty, and as mass
produced boots and shoes became more affordable the clog rapidly disappeared,
people wanted better! Two generations later the stigma has disappeared, and
people who once looked down on clog wearers as uncouth now look back with
fondness to a "simpler" time.
For Many years clogs were made with simple tools like the
stock knives pictured left. Most types of wood have probably been used for
making clog soles at some time or other. the main requirement is that it is
easily worked, doesn't splinter and resists splitting. The favorite for hand
cut soles is Alder or Sycamore, with some clog makers using Ash, Birch, Willow
and Poplar (Aspen). Different woods have different characteristics, Alder is
said to be very good at absorbing moisture, keeping the feet dry, it's light,
and is worked into shape easily so it's good in hot industries it is however
quite weak, and in some circumstances will have a tendency to split. Ash is the
best wood to make dancing clogs out of it's light, and springy with plenty of
bounce and a ringing tone, but only dance in the dry, if they get wet, the
structure of the wood can collapse under you, Sycamore is a good all round
wood, light, white, and resilient, it can be worked while still wet, it's said
that you can chop down a tree, and make clogs from the wood the same day (risky
in these days of central heating). Beech is not a wood for the hand maker, it
is hard to work, and the finished clogs are heavier, it also doesn't have much
spring, an important feature in dancing clogs
Only Walkley's of Hebden Bridge are still mass producing
clog soles. they use Beech, kiln dried to 12% moisture content. Alder logs are
too small to be practical in machine production, and Sycamore has silica in
it's structure, this blunts the cutters too quickly. Beech is a very stable
wood, and Beech soles will take a lot of hammer without splitting. This is what
made it ideal for a mass produced item, and there was a huge demand for clogs.
Maud's Clog Sole Factory (later Walkleys) in Hebden Bridge made 862,164 pairs
of soles in 1911, this rose to 1,211,268
pairs in 1943, but dropped to 120,600 pairs by 1971 In the steel trades where they walked over the hot metal in the
rolling mills, a man could burn through four pairs of clog soles in a day, many
factories employed their own clogger to keep re-soling the worn out clogs.
Long before history began wore shoes. During the Ice Age
people called Cro-Magnons wore simple leather boots. They lived during an ice
age so protecting your feet from the cold was essential. In Egypt shoes were
not necessary because of the hot climate. Most people went barefoot much of the
time but they sometimes wore sandals made from papyrus. Well off Egyptians wore
A people called the Assyrians ruled an empire in the Middle
East between 900 BC and 612 BC. They equipped their soldiers with sturdy boots,
which helped on long marches.
Roman soldiers wore tough boots called caligae. Well off
Romans wore a type of closed shoe called a calceus when they were outdoors.
However you did not wear them indoors. Instead you put on a kind of flip-flop
called a solea. However Roman slaves usually went barefoot.
Medieval and Tudor Boots and Shoes
Saxon and Viking people wore simple leather boots and shoes
but in the 15th century rich people wore shoes with long pointed toes. They
were called crakows because they were believed to have originated in Krakow.
(However only the upper classes wore them. Ordinary people had shoes with round
toes). However at the end of the 15th century long toes went out of fashion and
the wealthy began to wear shoes with square or round toes.
In the Middle Ages peasants wore wooden clogs for working in
muddy conditions. In the towns people wore wooden platforms called pattens under
their shoes. (They had straps to hold them on). Some pattens were several
In the Middle Ages shoe makers were called cordwainers. The
word is derived from cordovan the name for leather from Cordova in Spain.
In the 16th century some people had deliberate cuts in their
shoes called slashes. Sometimes they were slip on shoes but sometimes they were
tied with latches. Early Tudor shoes did not have heel. However in the late
16th century women in England began to wear shoes with high heels.
In the early 17th century it was fashionable for men to wear
boots. However in the late 17th century some people began to wear shoes with
In the 18th century there were many different styles of
shoes. Rich people had buckles made of silver! Furthermore in the 17th century
and 18th century wealthy women wore shoes of satin or silk. Often they were
embroidered. Outdoors people wore overshoes like sandals of wood or leather
over their shoes to protect them.
19th Century Boots and Shoes
In the early 19th century shoes were made with a right foot
and a left foot instead of being interchangeable. Men very often wore boots in
the 19th century and it became acceptable for women to wear them too. However
at the end of the century it became fashionable for women to wear shoes again.
In the 19th century shoes had laces rather than buckles. In the early 19th
century a new type of boot was named after the Duke of Wellington. At first
they were made of leather but from the 1850s they were made of rubber.
In the 19th century boots and shoes were mass-produced for
the first time and they were cheaper. However in the 19th century boots and
shoes were still a luxury and some poor parents could not afford to buy them
for their children. In many towns at the end of the 19th century a charity
called the Boot Fund was founded to help provide boots and shoes for poor
children. Nevertheless as late as the 1920s children played in the streets of
British towns barefoot because they couldn't afford shoes.
20th Century Boots and Shoes
In the 20th century with rising living standards there were
a huge variety of styles of shoes. In the 1920s women’s shoes were often
decorated with beads. During the Second World War because leather was in short
supply some people wore clogs rather than shoes. Then in the late 1950s
stiletto heels became fashionable for women. In the 1950s some women wore slip
on shoes called mules. For men in the late 1950s shoes with long pointed toes
called winkle pickers were popular. In the 1960s boots for women came back into
fashion and in the 1970s shoes with platform soles were popular for both sexes.
Meanwhile trainers were designed in 1949 by Adolf Dasler. Flip flops were
invented in 1956. The famous Dr Martens boot was introduced in 1960. A lot of
women wear safety shoes.