|Footwear is a staple of every person's wardrobe, be it functional athletic shoes or fashionable heels. There was a time, however, when Manolo Blahniks and Nikes were a thing of the future. Prehistoric civilizations used plant and animal material to protect their feet from cold weather as long as half a million years ago, but sturdy footwear wasn't commonly used until between 40,000 and 26,000 years ago. Comfortable shoes developed during the same time as many other significant human advances such as art and stone tools. But human civilization still had a long way to go before the leather boots and comfortable slippers of today.
One of the earliest known forms of functional footwear was a specialized sandal worn by Roman soldiers that were durable and practical. The idea behind these shoes was similar to that of the modern day Teva or Birkenstock- sturdy footwear that could stand up to wear and tear, but was appropriate for warm weather. These functional sandals fell out of use after the collapse of the Roman Empire, however, and it was another 1000 years before specialized shoes began developing again.
The Romans spread the use of different styles of shoes, which lead to aesthetic developments in footwear. While shoes were not differentiated by brand names like Steve Madden, Prada and Jimmy Choo, distinct shoe styles developed that separated wearers by class and nobility. Round-toe shoes were popular in 10th century Britain, and pointed toe shoes became popular in the medieval age. Boots covering part of the leg came into use in the 11th century, and several centuries later, heeled shoes developed. It was around the same time that men's shoes and women's shoes were differentiated. Men commonly wore square toe shoes like the loafers and oxfords of today, while pointed toe shoes were considered more feminine.
Brands and designers came to prominence in the 20th century. In today's world, shoe brands like Adidas, Timberland, Gucci, and Nine West are household names, and shoe buyers can choose between basketball, running, or trail shoes, platforms, wedges or pumps, cowboy or stiletto boots and hundreds of other styles to fit both style and function.