Clogs or wooden shoes have a long social history which has association with shoes of the peasantry. Cheap, durable and made from available wood, clogs were commonplace from Scandinavia to France and Northern England. The all wooden shoe was made from a single block of wood and were called different names in different countries e.g. Klomp (Netherlands), Klompen (German) and Sabots (France).
The choice of wood was important and those most favoured were woods which would not split. Alder, birch, sycamore, willow or beech were commonly used. Wooden clogs were worn either with no embellishment or with a thick straw bed used to pad against the rigidity of the wood.
In Europe, itinerant craftsmen, known as bodgers, prepared the wood for clogs by roughly shaping the soles. These were stacked in pyramids to allow air to circulate ensuring a natural and even drying. One of the essentials of a good pair of clogs was to pair them from the beginning so the wood would shrink together.
The first clog maker’s guild was formed in Netherlands in 1570 and the first English clog making guild came much later in the 1600s. Clogs had a brief flirtation as stylish shoes for the middle class but was soon forsaken and condemned to be the footwear of the worker.
By 1792, Citizens of the Revolution wore proletarian costume, which included sabots. Lithuanian peasants from the end of the 18th century wore wooden clogs to work in the fields.
Clogs were popular with mill workers in the North of England during the nineteenth century and worn up until the Second World War. On Sundays or festive occasions, the custom was to replace the clogs with leather shoes sporting a silver buckle. The custom of "Sunday Best" still exists in modern society.
Clogs were worn by both sexes and sometimes varnished black with a coloured pattern or the initials of the wearer included in the design.
A Dutch courting custom was for the young man to present a pair of hand carved and decorated clogs to his fiancé.
George Beau Brummell (1778-1840) was an outspoken critic of clogs and according to a biographer publicly condemned them. In private the bella figure occasionally wore a pair of clogs.
The design of Swedish clogs differs from the shoe type traditionally seen elsewhere. It consists of a backless shoe with a wooden sole. This design is closest to the older patten style and ironically remains the most popular design of modern clogs.
The traditional wooden clog is still worn on ceremonial occasions and at traditional dancing events but sadly the number of craftsmen able to make clogs has significantly reduced.