Chopines and Their Eastern Influences

Chopines were clogs that were meant to make women the ideal Venetian beauties because of the importance of being tall. Chopines allowed these industrious household managers of their private homes to become symbols of ideal beauty in public space. The shoes were made of wood or cork, covered with leather or fabric, and were elaborately painted. Chopines appear to be beautiful, however, the Venetian women were subject to intense pain and immobility. Women of wealth were often supported and assisted by men or servants so they wouldn’t fall or lose their balance. The wearing of chopines is symbolic of Venetian female beauty, yet it is also symbolic of how women presented themselves as objects of attraction with restrictions of enjoying the sovereignty of the city.

Chopines display much of the Eastern influences in Venice. Because of the wealth and success of the major trade port in Venice, which connected Europe and the East, the city was able to consume elements of Eastern culture. The exact origin of the chopines is unclear, however there are several opinions. One hypothesis is that they were influenced from Turkish women’s bulky bathhouse clogs, used to protect feet from contact of heated and slick marble. Another source says that the style came from the Orient before the Renaissance during Ancient Greece. The style of these high shoes was possibly from the actors who wore platform shoes on stage in order to make themselves more noticeable to the audience. The most likely Eastern source of the chopines is related to the Chinese. The Chinese theories of Confucius seem to be present in the Venetian chopines because of his ideals of female confinement and subjugation. Like the tiny, elaborately decorated high clog shoes of the Chinese women, Venetian women felt physically confined in their platform heels. Another cultural aspect of the East that seemed present in the Venetian footwear is the concept of women’s feet as sexual objects. The Chinese loved the idea of having beautifully enclosed feet hidden under their garments. In the West, women’s feet were seen as a symbol of chastity that had to be hidden under their dresses. Like the Chinese, chopines were representative of wealth and status. Wealthy noblewomen in Venice demonstrated their status by wearing very tall chopines. As in China, women’s feet were reflective of their status because they believed that a woman with smaller, bound feet showed their wealth and high rank in society. Although the Venetians did not believe that binding the women’s feet was ideal, they considered the appearance of feet as a reflection of their social status.

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