Paduka: India’s Fashionable Platform/Wedge Shoe

I’m thrilled that platform and wedge shoes have hung around for many seasons. At only 5′ tall, I love the height boost without needing pump heels, which with a size 6.5 foot, you can only wear so high before you’re walking on the tips of your toenails. Without platforms and wedges, seeing the world from the lofty (ha!) height of … 5’4″ maybe 5’5″ if the shoes are especially stable … would be impossible.

But for all of us reading here, this is just a fashion decision, and it’s a major luxury.

Huh? Isn’t it luxury to be talking about Hermes or Maison Martin Margiela shoes? Are Sofft and Nine West wedges luxurious?

Well, yes. Because for us here, this is fashion and personal preference. But in previous centuries, getting a boost above the muck on the ground was a necessity for health. Who knows what lived in the muck in the streets before proper sewage disposal. And when floods hit, all kinds of nastiness swirls in the waters. Still today, much garbage lies on the ground around the world.

Thus, people needed a booster shot – via their shoes — for their health. We’ll get to India’s paduka in a second. Lofty shoes could be found in many lands, and for the wealthy they were gorgeous …

Nineteenth century Turkish kabkab via Bata Shoe Museum:

Manchu platforms from China, via Bata Shoe Museum:

The Venetian chopine, gorgeous and not always practical:

So let’s now see some antique paduka from India …

These antique toe knob sandals from the 1800s, with bone and ivory inlay in sheesham wood, are available at Michael Backman Ltd:

These paduka, less ornate but just as pretty, are available via Laurie Maritime Antiques on Fleaglass:

Paduka such as these are associated with sadhu, or holy men in India, and venerated religious ceremonies. So they carry a meaning far beyond being hygienic.

Here’s another pair of antique rosewood paduka sandals (now sold), inlaid with brass wire, at Michael Backman Ltd:

From the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, antique ceremonial silver paduka with an ornamental gold-covered toe knob, from Jaipur:

These paduka shaped like fish — a symbol of fertility and plenty in India — are inlaid with brass, and part of the Bata Shoe Museum collection:

These are 20th century brass paduka etched with a lotus symbol, at the Bata Shoe Museum:

If you like the idea of toe knob sandals, you can get some for yourself. I recently got a pair of paduka, although they’re flat not wedged:

They’re made by Feesk and I got them from Pondicherry, which carries many Feesk and other toe-plug sandal styles (plus many more India-inspired wares — check them out — I’m not paid to say these things, just a happy customer sharing good finds with you). I wear these paduka casual as I’ve already had a wedding many years ago. But with the metallic threads and sparkles …

… these would be great for an Indian wedding, for the bride and guests.

Recently at the Art Institute of Chicago, I spotted a lady lunching there while wearing Feesk toe-plug sandals with a black outfit. Wouldn’t these paduka be nice with a long black knit column dress?

When we were in Chennai last year, rains flooded the streets for many days. (Visit the India Travel Stories page to see videos.) The same streets where garbage overflows the containers, and where animals live and do all their daily business. We would have needed 2-foot tall paduka to wade above those waters. Lacking that, we were very conscientious about not getting our feet into the water. Coming from the U.S. we lack some immunities and can get sick very easily in India. (That would never stop me from traveling to other countries, though.) So our car and rickshaw drivers would pull up to elevated driveways so we could walk into stores above the waters. We mapped our travels around streets that had better drainage. As a result, our feet never got in the water. It was a minor annoyance. But imagine if we had to think about that, all day every day, when walking outside? Yes we do live in luxury in many ways — we may not always see it because our bar of expectations has been raised so much higher today.




5 Responses to Paduka: India’s Fashionable Platform/Wedge Shoe

  1. The fish shoes are to die for!! Gorgeous. What amazes me (as a chiropractor) is the utter illogic of shoes that stiff and blocky and heavy at the heel but with only a toe strap. It’s like they pull the shoe by their toes with the backs dragging along the ground. Yours at least are logical, with an ankle strap. I just can’t get how multiple cultures would choose the same design despite it being inconvenient, then I remember that often the point (for “ladies”) was to do as little work and effort as possible..hence tiny arm holes in gowns (no moving or they tear) and massive hoop skirts that preclude any exertion. Foot binding, etc. They’re all gorgeous but not functional for anyone who really needs to moooove. Ok.. Tirade over. Lol

    • Here’s a clue — while researching the elevated shoes in various cultures, I found another common theme. I chose to write about sewage (maybe that was my public health background speaking!), but women might also have been trying to dress like the courtesans. Yes! Maybe it’s more fun to write about hookers than sewage? But whatever. I guess things haven’t changed much — today we have push-up bras and tight jeans.

      I once wore kimono for Halloween and got the Japanese shoes with the tall wood bases. I nearly killed my face. And that was BEFORE any wine. Definitely there was some suppression of women going on, on a mass scale.

  2. Oh what a lovely find! I need to go here, if I do visit Toronto- Thanks for sharing awesome things as usual deb :)

    • Hi! It’s good to hear from you again! Yes this museum sounds neat, I want to visit too whenever/if I get to Toronto again. I think learning about history through shoes might be the best way to remember some history, ha ha …

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