On foot binding and shoes

“First, each foot would be soaked in a warm mixture of herbs and animal blood; this was intended to soften the foot and aid the binding. Then, the toenails were cut back as far as possible to prevent in-growth and subsequent infections, since the toes were to be pressed tightly into the sole of the foot. Cotton bandages, 3 m long and 5 cm wide (10 ft by 2 in), were prepared by soaking them in the blood and herb mixture. To enable the size of the feet to be reduced, the toes on each foot were curled under, then pressed with great force downwards and squeezed into the sole of the foot until the toes broke.

 “The broken toes were held tightly against the sole of the foot while the foot was then drawn down straight with the leg and the arch forcibly broken. The bandages were repeatedly wound in a figure-eight movement, starting at the inside of the foot at the instep, then carried over the toes, under the foot, and around the heel, the freshly broken toes being pressed tightly into the sole of the foot. At each pass around the foot, the binding cloth was tightened, pulling the ball of the foot and the heel together, causing the broken foot to fold at the arch, and pressing the toes underneath.”


Reading about foot binding (which I decided to do after a short mention of it in The Adventurers) made me contort my face in various ways of discomfort. I couldn’t even look at the images without cringing. (And I suspect that if I look at them hard enough, I’d faint.)

I’m still trying to wrap my head around why this fad caught on among Chinese women and how men could even find the grotesque end-result erotic.

* * * *

As long as we are on the subject, I’m reminded of this quote on shoes from one of my all-time favorite movies, Monte Carlo. 😀 “If it ain’t hurting, it ain’t helping.”

I’ve been really fortunate with my footwear choices in the last four years: none of them hurt my feet. This is a revelation especially since I grew up being used to cheap, inexpensive shoes that hurt and the types of which you can expect to last for a year—two if you’re lucky.

Clothes and accessories depreciate—for sure—but I think that for men, shoes do make a great investment.

* * * *

In Off the Cuff, Carson Kressley lists 10 essential shoes for guys, but I think you can go through life with just the following:

  • The Oxford Lace-up – what you wear to formal events and strictly corporate environments
  • The Brown Wing Tip or Brogues – for something less formal than the lace-up; perfect for dates in which you want to impress
  • Boots – not strictly a necessity but I think it adds a lot of punch and sex appeal to an otherwise average outfit
  • Loafers – versatile shoes which you can wear with some formality when paired with a suit; or for trips to the mall or beach (I’m thinking a very casual slip-on here) and everything in between
  • A Classic Sneaker – find one which you’ll be confident enough to pull off with a suit to maximize its use


(In case you’re interested, the others are flip-flop, cowboy boot, athletic sneaker, driving moccasin, and the tuxedo shoe.)

More: The GQ guide to men’s shoes; photos by Simon Burstall, Nigel Cox, and Paola Kudacki for GQ


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