Happy St Nicholas’ Day!

It is December, which means that Christmas is coming soon. Santa Claus is believed to have come from St Nicholas, a bishop in the fourth century. St Nicholas’ Day is on the 6th of December. There is a European tradition associated with shoes on this day. On the eve of St Nicholas’ Day, children leave their shoes or boots out. St Nicholas will come in a sleigh drawn by a white horse and leave goodies in the shoes of good children. These are treats like oranges, apples, gingerbread, sweets, chocolates and nuts. This is a tradition in European countries like Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Romania. I think it’s a great tradition, though I wonder about the hygiene of putting food inside footwear.

Here’s the perfect sparkly sneaker for the festive season. Merry Christmas to all readers and see you in the new year.

Purple sparkly Deelo canvas sneaker by Deuce (photo by Ely Rodrigues).



Dutch wooden clogs (klompen)

Happy new year 2017! It’s a brand new year and I’m excited at the start of this year to write about Dutch clogs. I have wanted to write about this type of footwear for ages and I’m happy to finally be able to do so.

When I think about icons related to the Netherlands, tulips, windmills and wooden clogs come to mind. The first ever wooden shoe came from the Netherlands, dating from about 1230 AD, meaning that the Dutch people have been wearing wooden shoes for almost 800 years. These wooden clogs are quite appropriately called klompen. In the past, these clogs were made by hand and cut from a single piece of wood. Nowadays, the clogs are machine made.

A gigantic wooden clog outside a Dutch souvenir shop. This clog is painted with a traditional motif to make the top resemble a leather shoe (Photo by Sim Kui Ping).

A gigantic wooden clog outside a souvenir shop in the Netherlands. This clog is painted with a traditional motif to make the top resemble a leather shoe (Photo by Sim Kui Ping).

The first guild of clog makers was formed in the Netherlands around 1570. Before the 16th century, only rich people could afford shoes, which were handmade from leather. Most people at that time didn’t wear shoes, so wooden shoes became a cheap footwear option for the masses. In the Netherlands, klompen were worn by peasants and farmers.

These days, Dutch people don’t regularly wear klompen anymore, though they are still worn by some people, mainly farmers and gardeners. Because klompen are made from wood, they are as safe as safety shoes or steel-capped boots, and can protect the wearer from sharp objects.

Nowadays, klompen are mainly sold as tourist souvenirs of the Netherlands, rather than as actual footwear.


Colourful ‘klompen’ painted with a windmill design, in a souvenir shop in the Netherlands (Photo by Sim Kui Ping).

If an actual wooden clog is too large, klompen souvenirs can also come in mini forms, such as fridge magnets and pins.

A fridge magnet in the form of 'klompen' (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

A fridge magnet in the form of ‘klompen’ (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

Below is a brooch in the form of a pair of plain, unpainted ‘klompen’, a gift from a friend who used to live in the Netherlands.

A brooch in the form of 'klompen' (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

A brooch in the form of ‘klompen’ (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

Footwear in children’s literature

Today, the shihyenshoes blog turns 5 years old. I can’t believe that I have been writing about footwear for half a decade. To be honest, I thought I would have run out of topics to write about years ago. Who knew so much could be written about footwear. During these past 5 years, I am most proud that I have never missed a single deadline for my blog. Even though it is a self-imposed deadline – to post once a month, on the 1st of the month. There were times when I wasn’t sure that I would make the deadline. And this month is one of them – what with moving house in the midst of a massive earthquake in New Zealand. But how could I miss the 5th birthday of my own blog?

On this 5th anniversary, as I look back on my own body of work on the blog, I realize that this blog makes me seem slightly crazy and obsessed about shoes (I’m not obsessed. Really!). I do have other interests apart from shoes. So this month I thought I would combine my shoe blog with something else that I know a lot about – children’s literature. For this post, I will be looking at the theme of shoes in classic children’s literature.

When I was 4 or 5 years old, my favourite story was ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’. This  story was first published in German by the Brothers Grimm in the early 1800s. I love the idea that little elves would magically make shoes in the middle of the night. My best friend in kindergarten gave me a Ladybird book of ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, from their series of ‘Well-loved tales’. I found a youtube video showing the exact same edition of the book that my friend gave me. My copy of this book was certainly well-loved.

Another popular story is that of Cinderella. I think everyone knows the story of Cinderella and her glass slipper. Even as a child I couldn’t understand the logic of this story. I can accept elves magically making shoes at night, but in the Cinderella story, I couldn’t understand why the Prince didn’t recognize Cinderella’s face, instead relying on her being able to fit into a glass slipper. And surely there would be more than one woman with the same shoe size as Cinderella.


The Disney version of Cinderella as she puts on the glass slipper.

The story of ‘The Red Shoes’ by Hans Christian Andersen, was first published in the mid-1800s. This story is not so well-known, and perhaps for good reason. This story tells of Karen, a poor girl whose mother dies. Karen loves a pair of red shoes and vainly wears them to church. But the enchanted red shoes make her dance, and she can’t stop dancing until her soul reaches heaven. In darker versions of this story, Karen asks an executioner to cut off her feet so she can stop dancing. I don’t like this story because of its moral against vanity and against admiring shoes in church. Also, this story says that red shoes are not suitable to wear to church, and I don’t agree with that.

‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ was first published in 1865. It is more commonly known as ‘Alice in Wonderland’. It was written by an English mathematician under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Shoes don’t feature much in this book, but the original illustrations of the Alice character, by Sir John Tenniel, show her wearing flat shoes in a Mary Jane style.

An original illustration from 1865 of Alice in Wonderland by Sir John Tenniel. Alice is always depicted wearing flat Mary Jane shoes.

An original illustration from 1865 of Alice in Wonderland by Sir John Tenniel. Alice is always depicted wearing flat Mary Jane shoes.

‘The Wizard of Oz’, originally published as ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ is an American children’s book by L. Frank Baum, first published in 1900. In the classic 1939 movie version of this book, Judy Garland (as Dorothy) famously wore red ruby slippers. A few pairs of these ruby slippers were made, and one pair is at the Smithsonian Institution. Currently, the Smithsonian is raising money to conserve and repair these ruby slippers. They need US$300 000 for the conservation work. $300 000 to conserve a pair of shoes! In the book, Dorothy actually wears silver shoes. By clicking her heels three time while wearing these magic silver shoes, they will take her home. For the movie, the silver shoes were changed to red to take advantage of new Technicolor technology at the time, which would make red shoes look better on screen than silver shoes.

Next, I’m writing about classic children’s books that have a type of footwear in the book’s title. The first is ‘Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates’. This book was first published in 1865, and was written by an American, Mary Mapes Dodge, who had never actually been to the Netherlands when she wrote the book. This book, set in the Netherlands, is about a Dutch boy Hans Brinker and his younger sister Gretel who want to win an ice skating competition. The main prize in the competition is the titular silver skates. Silver skates don’t really feature much in this book. Rather, this book focuses more on life in 19th century Netherlands.

Noel Streatfield was an English writer. She wrote a few children’s books with footwear in their titles. Her best known work was ‘Ballet Shoes’, first published in 1936. This was followed by ‘Tennis Shoes’ in 1937. Possibly due to the popularity of ‘Ballet Shoes’, many of her subsequent works have alternative titles with ‘shoes’ in the title, such as ‘Circus Shoes’, ‘Theatre Shoes’, ‘Dancing Shoes’ and ‘Skating Shoes’. Though again, the shoes themselves don’t feature so much in the books.

I hope you have enjoyed this month’s slightly different blog post on footwear in fiction. A more regular post (on non-fiction footwear!) will resume next month, which is also a brand new year.


Falling in love … with shoes

Maybe you’re one of those practical types who don’t give much thought to shoes. Shoes are just protective gear that you wear on your feet. You’re looking at the title of this post and you can’t possibly imagine how anyone can fall in love with shoes. Well, I’m here to tell you that it is possible to fall in love with shoes and I’m going to tell you about shoes that I have loved.

I don’t believe in love at first sight when it comes to humans, but when it comes to shoes, I have definitely fallen in love at first sight. The first time it happened to me was 12 years ago and I fell in love at first sight with a pair of Camper TWS twins shoes. The right foot says ‘He loves me…’ with fluttering white daisy petals, while the left foot says, ‘He loves me not’ with a white daisy flower losing some of its petals. I saw it in a print ad and went into the store to look for them. Never mind that the price tag was over NZ$300 (and this was over a decade ago) and I was just working in my first real job at that time. I bought the pair of shoes without a second thought. This was back when Camper was still made in Spain. They are a beautiful and high quality pair of shoes. I still have them and they still look pretty new.

Shih Yen fell in love with this pair of Camper shoes from their TWS range

Shih Yen fell in love with this pair of Camper shoes from their TWS range.

The second time was about 10 years ago when I fell in love at first sight with another pair of Mary Jane style shoes. The label was Candy, but I haven’t been able to find out more about this label. This pair of shoes has pink butterflies on them and the words ‘Happy summer days forever’. The soles of the shoes are pink with butterflies on them. This pair of shoes is now old, and the soles are cracked and can’t be repaired. Even though I can no longer wear them, I can’t bear to throw them out. Just like with someone you love, you can’t throw them away just because they are old.


Shih Yen fell in love with this pair of Candy shoes with pink butterflies and the words ‘Happy summer days forever.’

candy sole

Butterflies on the sole of Shih Yen’s Candy shoes.

Now I can see that I have a ‘type’. I love cutesy, quirky shoes in a Mary Jane style, and preferably flat. Recently, I have fallen in love again. I love the entire Chocolaticas range by Hot Chocolate. This is a label from Venezuela, though I was disappointed to find out that Hot Chocolate shoes are designed in Venezuela, but made in China. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but it was  a love of an entire range. I even love the shoe boxes that the shoes come in. The shoe box is in the shape of a chocolate milk carton.

This ‘cupid’ style was the only pair that the shop had in my size, so I bought them. And I love them. They have yellow glitter on the soles, and the glitter is so cool, just like the butterflies on the soles of my Candy shoes. Wearing shoes that I love makes me happy and puts me in a good mood.


Shih Yen’s Hot Chocolate Design shoes in the style ‘cupid’.

choc box

The Hot Chocolate Design ‘Cupid’ style has glitter on the soles of the shoes, and the shoe box is in the shape of a chocolate milk carton.

You may think that loving shoes are silly. They can never love you back. They may give you blisters and break your ankle, but shoes will never break your heart. ❤

As an epilogue to this post, after writing this post I finally got rid of my old Candy shoes. Like with any great love, once it is over, you have to let it go. And it is only when you let go that you can love again.

Confusing name for a shoe shop

Last year, a new shoe shop opened in Dunedin, a little city in the south of New Zealand. The name of the shoe shop is Tango’s, and there are a few branches in New Zealand. The shop in Dunedin is their southernmost branch.


Tango’s shoe shop in George Street, Dunedin.

I think the name of the shop is such a misnomer. If the name of a shop is Tango’s and has a logo of a couple dancing, what would you expect this shop to sell?


If a shop’s name is Tango’s, and has a logo of two people dancing, what would you expect this shop to sell?

I was disappointed to find out that Tango’s Shoes does not sell dance shoes. This shop sells neither tango shoes nor shoes from Argentina. In fact, they don’t even sell any shoes from anywhere in the Americas – North, Central or South America. So why the hell are they called Tango’s? The reason why the shop is called Tango’s is because the owners spent some time in Argentina and came back from the trip with an additional 35 pairs of shoes in their luggage.

After I had got over the initial disappointment, I found that Tango’s Shoes sell some beautiful European shoes, mainly from Portugal, Italy, Spain and France. One of my favourite labels stocked by Tango’s Shoes is El Naturalista, which is made in Spain. El Naturalista shoes are comfortable, eco-friendly and inspired by nature. El Naturalista even manufactures a line of vegan shoes, which contain no traces of animal products.


A selection of shoes sold at Tango’s shoe shop.


Camper Twins Shoes

The Volvo Ocean Race ends in Galway, Ireland in July 2012. This is a gruelling round-the-world yacht race that started over 8 months ago, stopped in 10 countries, covering 39 000 nautical miles. I don’t pretend to know anything about yachting or sailing, but one of the yachts in the race (the Team New Zealand yacht) is sponsored by Camper. Camper is a Spanish company with many interests, like yachting, restaurants and hotels, but it started with shoes.

The company Camper was founded by Lorenzo Fluxà in 1975, but the origins of the company started a century earlier. Lorenzo’s grandfather, Antonio Fluxà was a skilled cobbler and in 1877, Antonio sailed to England to find new and innovative ways of industrial manufacturing. When he returned to Mallorca, he opened a shoe factory and introduced the first machines used to manufacture shoes. Antonio worked with leather and the best leather craftsmen.

Camper is the first brand of shoes to show me that shoes do not have to be a mirror image of each other to make up a pair. People are mostly used to a pair of shoes being made up of two shoes, identical but a mirror image of each other. Camper successfully challenged my concept of ‘a pair of shoes’ with their Twins or TWS range of shoes. These are shoes where the left and right side of the shoes are different from each other, and yet when put together, they still form a pair.

My pair of Camper shoes is made in Spain. Camper has since moved their production to China, so I can’t comment on Camper shoes made outside of Spain as I haven’t bought any Camper shoes in a while.

Camper makes funny, quirky and fun designs in their Twins range. My pair of Campers are in the style of Mary-Jane wedges. The right foot says ‘He loves me…’ with fluttering white daisy petals, while the left foot says, ‘He loves me not’ with a white daisy flower losing some of its petals.

Shih Yen fell in love at first sight with this pair of Camper shoes from the Camper TWS range.

Camper also taught me that it is possible to fall in love at first sight with a pair of shoes. I fell in love with my Camper Twins shoes in a print ad. I went into the shoe shop searching for that pair of Camper shoes. Even the price tag, which was over NZ$300 (or over RM700 – and this was some time ago) did not put me off. I bought the shoes without a second thought.

Yes, Camper shoes are expensive, but they are long-lasting and comfortable and I love the fun and quirkiness of the Camper Twins range.

Russian bast shoes (лапти)

So the Eurovision Song Contest is over for another year. This year, the contest was held in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Who knew that Azerbaijan, which is north of Iran, is part of Europe.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest seems to have attracted more… shall we say… senior contestants, with 76 year-old Engelbert Humperdinck representing the United Kingdom. He finished second from last place. In contrast, a group of grannies called Buranovskiye Babushki representing Russia, came in second place in the Eurovision Song Contest. The name of their group literally means ‘grannies from Buranovo’. Buranovo is a village in Udmurtia, over 1000km east of Moscow. The average age of the grannies is 75 and at Eurovision, they sang while baking bread in an oven on stage.

The Russian grannies wore traditional costumes of homespun fabric with necklaces made of silver coins. Did anyone notice their footwear? They wore handmade socks made by one of their group and bast shoes. Bast shoes are traditional Russian peasant shoes made of birchbark. Bast shoes are also called lapti. These shoes are made by weaving fibre of the birch tree. The shoes are held onto the foot by string. Bast shoes have an ancient origin and have been worn for centuries in Europe, with evidence of them dating from prehistoric times. Bast shoes are found in Northern and Eastern Europe and are worn in Russia, Finland, Poland and former countries of the Soviet Union.

Members of Branovskiye Babushki putting on their bast shoes before rehearsals. Photo from http://m.sknvibes.com/news/newsdetails.cfm/55761

In the past, bast shoes were common footwear in Russian villages. Bast shoes don’t last long; they wear out quickly and are not waterproof, but they are cheap to make. So in the past, they were worn by peasants and the poorest people who could not afford other footwear. Nowadays, similar to other traditional footwear like Chinese clogs, bast shoes are mostly just tourist souvenirs and are not common footwear. They are now more commonly worn by folk performers or folk dancers, like the Buranovskiye Babushki.