Inside the Collection

Summer Sandals:

Woven Japanese Waraji Sandals
Sandals, Japanese Waraji, 19th century. Image: Powerhouse Museum

Warm weather changes the way we dress including what we put on our feet, initially I started thinking about strappy, elegant, contemporary sandals and yet when I looked at our collection I was drawn to a range of 19th century sandals from a variety of cultures and made out of unusual materials. Like the Japanese waraji sandals above, that were made out of vegetable fibre. Traditionally made out of a rope material of rice straw, waraji can be made out of various other materials such as hemp, stalks of my?ga, palm fibers, and cotton thread.

The word sandal derives from the Greek word ‘sandalon’ People wear sandals for several reasons, they are cheaper to make (sandals tend to require less material than shoes and are usually easier to construct), are comfortable in warm weather, and as a fashion choice.
Theories on the origins of footwear link the type and material to environmental considerations. Its thought in cold climates people would want to cover the feet up as much a possible for warmth and in hot climates the focus was on protecting the sole of the foot. Its likely sandals developed first in hot climates.

Theses sandals are made from pandanus fibre and were worn by locals in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) to protect their feet when walking over the sharp coral reefs and purchased by the Museum in 1898.

sandals, pair, pandanus fibre, Reef Islands, Banks Group, New Hebrides
H1851, sandals, pair, pandanus fibre, Reef Islands, Banks Group, New Hebrides, 1895. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

A definition of a sandal is “footwear consisting essentially of a sole which is attached to the foot by straps” 1. It seems a common understanding is that a sandal leaves most of the upper part of the foot exposed, particularly the toes.

Bright orange Burmese sandals, maker unknown, late 19th century Collection
H4448-1023 Burmese sandals, maker unknown, late 19th century Collection: Powerhouse Museum

These sandals pictured above was made in Burma in the late 19th century and are part of the Museums significant Joseph Box Collection. They were exhibited in in the Shoe and Leather Fair, Islington, 1895 and the Bethnal Green Museum Shoe Exhibition, London, England in 1897, described as: ‘Sandals, a pair; soles of leather stitched along rows at short intervals through large perforations, the tops of the soles are of thick felt; the feet are held by bands of flannel fastened between the toes to the soles. originally thought to be Armenian, footwear specialist June Swann, attributes the sandals to Burma.

These and many others were featured in the Museums 1997 exhibition ‘Stepping out: three centuries of shoes’ and documented in its accompanying publication.

1/ The feet of ingenuity: a catalogue of footwear, Horniman Museum, UK, 1993

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *