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The Symbolism of Shoes

Updated on August 29, 2017

The symbolic meaning of shoes

People use a wide variety of symbols in order to communicate with each other and to identify themselves and the world around them. Body language, gestures, religious symbols, mathematics, colors, natural symbols and so much more. Symbols function at a deeper, almost subliminal level, more profound and direct than that of written words and speech.

In this lens I chose to examine an uncommon symbol: Shoes. The inspiration came from a good friend of mine, who has recurring dreams about shoes. We all have our own, private symbolism, which we usually access through dreams or through a certain affinity or aversion we feel for specific images, motifs, animals, emblems, shapes, plants, patterns. Personal symbols may look funny to the outsider, but that does not mean they are less important or significant. I would encourage everyone to try to decipher their own inner, symbolic language, as a means of reaching hidden and unknown aspects of their personality.

*photos taken by me

shoe symbolism
shoe symbolism

The shoe as a symbol

Shoes in symbolism have a contradictory significance. They represent authority and power, but they can also represent humility, servitude. It all depends on the context we find them in.

In some religions, when you enter a temple you are required to put off your shoes, showing humbleness and respect to the divine. In this case shoes are a symbol of obedience, of earthly in contrast with the holy. "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground ', is the command to Moses" (Exod. 3. 5).

In older times, not all people could afford buying shoes (slaves often didn't wear shoes), that is why they are associated with wealth, freedom and comfort, but also with the other side of the coin: vanity and arrogance. An example of such symbolism can be found in Hans Christian Andersen's story The Red Shoes. Platform shoes (chopines) were born in the 16th century as symbol of wealth. Women wearing excessively high chopines could not manage to walk without the assistance of at least two servants. In fact, the reason why men still offer women their arm today dates back to when women wore chopines and needed that little extra help to be able to go forward. Excessively high chopines in Italy offered the opportunity for more fabric to be displayed but it also offered the opportunity for servants to be displayed

In Europe it wasn't until the eighteenth century that women's shoes were different from men's

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Some types of shoes, especially high heels, have erotic and sexual connotations. Femme fatales never wear sneakers! They always walk on black or red, high -heel shoes. Stiletto heels appear to some as a phallic symbol.

Shoes keep our feet warm and protected,so obviously, for some individuals shoes symbolize protection or an environment where one can feel safe.

Old, worn shoes are a symbol of hardships and struggles. An excellent example is that of Van Gogh's stills, where old shoes are depicted as a symbol of hard life.

In christian tradition, the shoemaker's tools are the symbols of St. Crispin and St. Crispianus

golden sandals by bellacarib on Etsy
golden sandals by bellacarib on Etsy

The moon is "the Goddess of the Brazen Sandals" and golden and brazen sandals symbolize the full moon. Winged sandals portray fleetness and are an attribute of the messenger gods, especially Hermes/Mercury.

In weddings, shoes used to symbolize the authority of the husband over his wife and some of those traditions survive until today. In the Middle Ages a father passed his authority over his daughter to her husband in a shoe ceremony. At the wedding, the groom handed the bride a shoe, which she put on to show she was then his subject. In China one of the bride's red shoes is tossed from the roof to ensure happiness for the bridal couple. In Hungary the groom drinks a toast to his bride out of her wedding slipper. Today in the U.S. shoes are tied to the bumper of the bridal couple's car. This is a reminder of the days when a father gave the groom one of his daughter's shoes as a symbol of a changing caretaker. Egyptians would also exchange sandals when goods were exchanged so, when the bride's father gave his daughter to the groom, he would also give the bride's sandals to show that she now belonged to her new husband. In Anglo-Saxon times, the groom would tap the heel of the bride's shoe (or possibly strike her with a shoe...sources vary on this point) in order to display his authority over her. The bride would then throw shoes at her bridesmaids to see who would be the next to marry. In Tudor times, it was the custom to throw shoes at the couple or their carriage for good luck.

In gravestone symbolism, empty shoes symbolize the loss of a child. Usually one shoe is overturned. Thus shoes represent human frailty.

In Freudian symbolism, the shoe is the symbol of the vagina, while the foot symbolizes the penis.

One superstition holds that if you place your shoes in the form of a T on the left side of your bed, you are guaranteed to glimpse a vision of your one true love in your dreams

Shoes in Dreams

Shoes are symbols of your own personal determination to head in a particular direction. They tend to link to a wish to put a lot of effort into achieving something immediately. Often a lack of shoes shows that you wish you could head in the direction you wish.

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In general, shoes represent your approach to life. Wearing shoes in your dream suggests that you are well-grounded or down to earth. It also represents your convictions about your beliefs. If you are changing your shoes, then it refers to your changing roles. You are taking a new approach to life. If you forget your shoes, then it suggests that you are leaving behind your inhibitions. You are refusing to conform to some idea or attitude.

To see old and worn shoes in your dream indicates that you will find success through hard work and diligence. You have come to terms about who you are.

To dream that you are wearing inappropriate shoes for the occasion or for the activity at hand means that your progress and path in life will be long, hard and laborious. It may also indicate that you are heading in the wrong direction. Perhaps you need to reevaluate your goals. If you dream that your shoes do not fit or that they pinch and hurt, then it means that you are questioning your goals. You are doubting the direction of the path you are taking.

To dream that you are not wearing any shoes indicates that you have low self-esteem and a lack of confidence in yourself. You are dealing with issues about your self-identity. It also represents poverty, lack of mobility, or misunderstanding. Alternatively, to dream that you are not wearing shoes represent your playful attitudes and relaxed, carefree frame of mind. You have a firm grasp and good understanding on a situation. If you dream that you lose your shoes, then it suggests that you are searching for your identity and finding yourself.

( Dream Moods )

They say that if you dream of losing a shoe, predicts illness, while shiny shoes predict happinness and romance. Dusty shoes can indicate travel.

Notice what the shoe in your dream represents for you, personally, to gain insight into its meaning.

Do you ever dream of shoes?

Do they have a positive or negative meaning/symbolism for you?

In Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries heels on shoes were always colored red

An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols
An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols

This is one of the most comprehensive and well-written books about symbols. I was impressed by the variety of symbols that are examined in this book and I highly recommend it!

 

Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto

Your comments are welcome!

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    • profile image

      Alicia 

      12 months ago

      Dreamed I had dozens of shoes but the left shoe was missing from all of them

    • SilmarwenLinwelin profile imageAUTHOR

      SilmarwenLinwelin 

      5 years ago

      @ideadesigns: Very interesting! I can see the point of that and it makes perfect sense. Thank you :)

    • profile image

      ideadesigns 

      5 years ago

      As in a negative context I see in some cultures throwing a shoe is about a disagreement or disgust, mainly because a shoe is usually dirtiest part of our apparel. Thanks for a good shoe review!

    • SilmarwenLinwelin profile imageAUTHOR

      SilmarwenLinwelin 

      5 years ago

      @anonymous: It may mean that new opportunities lie ahead or that there's more than one options to an issue that troubles you. Just my thought :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      @SilmarwenLinwelin: whats the meaning of lots and lots of new shoes?

    • profile image

      Emily88 

      5 years ago

      i liked this lens

    • ManfromModesto LM profile image

      ManfromModesto LM 

      5 years ago

      I have seen people throw a pair of shoes, laces tied together, over a power line. This in the Marines in North Carolina, and in civilian West Philadelphia.

    • SilmarwenLinwelin profile imageAUTHOR

      SilmarwenLinwelin 

      6 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      Very nice shoe article.

    • SilmarwenLinwelin profile imageAUTHOR

      SilmarwenLinwelin 

      6 years ago

      @Heidi Vincent: Thank you :)

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 

      6 years ago from GRENADA

      Lovely shoe lens SilmarwenLinwelin! I learned a lot about shoes. Very interesting!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I really enjoyed your lens. Well done!

    • SilmarwenLinwelin profile imageAUTHOR

      SilmarwenLinwelin 

      6 years ago

      @anonymous: thank you! glad you liked it !

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      This lens was such a treat to find. I loved all the info you shared, and shared quite beautifully. I am "pinning" this lens!

    • SilmarwenLinwelin profile imageAUTHOR

      SilmarwenLinwelin 

      6 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks a lot !

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      Really great article thanks so much info about shoes :)

    • TaraWojt profile image

      Tara Wojtaszek 

      6 years ago

      Very interesting. I had never thought of the shoe as a symbol but it certainly is an interesting one.

    • SilmarwenLinwelin profile imageAUTHOR

      SilmarwenLinwelin 

      6 years ago

      @WriterJanis2: thank you!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 

      6 years ago

      Wow! So much interesting info here.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 

      6 years ago

      Visiting again to refresh blessings on this lens!

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 

      6 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      This is a super great lens! Love it. I always wondered about those shoes on the power lines. The ones by the side of the road too--but those I'm told by an alcoholic friend are shoes lost by alcoholics.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      Returning to bless!

    • profile image

      moonlitta 

      7 years ago

      So interesting facts here! I've always known there's something about shoes... blessed!

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 

      7 years ago from France

      Shoes are such a rich subject. I have a lens 'All about shoes and feet' written under the name of my alter-ego LadyEnglish. I touch on the symbolism a bit and I'll add this lens to it. Blessed.

    • Beadsnresin profile image

      Beadsnresin 

      7 years ago

      ahhhh now I know why i see those shoes hanging around the wires. at one stage i just kept seeing them all over the place, then they disappeared which I am thinking is a good thing now lol.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 

      7 years ago

      A very thoughtful, interesting lens - blessed by a SquidAngel! :)

    • profile image

      NaturalVamp 

      7 years ago

      One of the more interesting lenses I have read dahling! Most enjoyable.

    • andreaberrios lm profile image

      andreaberrios lm 

      7 years ago

      Very nice lens!! Thank you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      Enjoyed browsing your lens today, informative about shoes and things I didn't know, thanks for the education!

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 

      7 years ago

      Fascinating information that I had never thought about before, but this makes sense.

    • SilmarwenLinwelin profile imageAUTHOR

      SilmarwenLinwelin 

      7 years ago

      @anonymous: I agree with you. I too find some types of shoes contraining, like high heels and I rarely wear them.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      You are well informed on this topic. I must say I find shoes very constraining. Been working from home for the past two years, and love wearing slippers and sandals all day long :)

    • bibliopola profile image

      Işın Tuzcular 

      7 years ago from Istanbul

      very good lense. In Turkey after taking off our shoes and slippers, we put them together in a tidy way, if one shoe is placed away from the other, we believe unlucy events will take place..

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      What a creative look at shoes, they really can represent a lot of symbolism and you covered the territory very well, how interesting and fun!

    • SeraphicDeviltry profile image

      SeraphicDeviltry 

      7 years ago

      Awesome lens!! Well done! :)

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