Saturday, September 2, 2017

Guốc Mộc : Vietnamese wooden sandals

Guốc Mộc are sandals worn by Vietnamese and considered by many as a national dress. The earliest reference to sandals was in the third century, when a Vietnamese resistance leader called Ba Trieu wore ivory clogs. Experts believe it took until the Tran Dynasty (1407-1409) before bamboo sandals made from bamboo roots were worn by the population who up until this time went unshod.

Bamboo sandals were usually kept for festivals or visiting friends and wooden clogs were worn at home. These were usually homemade and had thick soles with slightly turned-up tips. The straps, which attached through a hole in the front and a pair of holes on the sides, were braided from soft cloth.

The curved sole meant the knot of the front strap did not rub on the ground. The soles of women's clogs were shaped like hour-glasses, while sampan clogs (men's clogs) had straight soles. The white wood was left unpainted but well-to-do people would have their clogs painted in black and brown with a pale coloured triangle on the side of the sole. In some areas clogs were known as ‘dons” and a common saying was "a foot with a shoe, a foot with a don" to indicate rich people who put on airs.

Before the August Revolution in 1945, clogs produced in Hue were called "capital clogs" or guoc kinh. These clogs had soles made from coconut shells or light wood, painted white and gold with embroidered straps.

The Guoc Viet (wooden sandals) became more popular under the French Rule during the Nguyen Dynasty (1858 -1945). At first rich town dwellers wore the new wooden sandals before the costume eventually spread to rural workers. Generally school children wore clogs up until the 1940s. Guoc Viet were made in craft villages in the northern provinces of Bac Ninh and Ha Tay, and Thanh Tri and Thanh Xuan districts in Ha Noi. The sandals were made from a special wood called mit because of its light weight, strength and durability. Sandals varied from the very expensive to the cheap and cheerful. Most people kept their better sandals for special and solemn occasions and they were often worn with traditional ao dai dresses. Gradually the wooden sandal was replaced with designer fashion.

Traditional wooden sandals are still available and can be bought in the market places for about VND40,000 (US$2.50). It is common for tourists to combine their favourite sandal sole with an attractive strap and the sandal merchants will nail the shoes to order. More fashionable sandals are now available and made from the wood of the bead-tree, fir and coral tree. Bead-tree wood is considered the best quality as it does not easily break or bend. It is also a heavy wood and so some manufacturers use fir tree wood because it is a lighter wood. Artisans shape the sandal then they are painted with a glossy paint, before decorations are drawn onto the surface.

The Vietnamese poet To Huu considered the zither like sound made by young girls and their wooden shoes to be a romantic.

During the American War in Vietnam, Viet Cong wore sandals made from tyre rubber with the sandal soles reversed to confuse anyone following in their footsteps through the Củ Chi tunnels.

Thursday, August 31, 2017


The national footwear of the Philippines is wooden clogs with a plastic strap and called ‘bakya.’ Bakya were made from local light wood e.g. santol and laniti. These were cut to the desired foot size before being shaven until smooth. The side of the bakya was thick enough to be carved with floral, geometric or landscape designs. Afterwards, the bakya were painted or varnished. Uppers of plastic or rubber were fastened using clavitos (tiny nails).

Bakya became much sought after souvenirs in late 40s and 50 and were particularly prized by the US personnel posted to the Philippines. The shoes were ubiquitous until the 70s when their popularity began to wain as cheaper rubber slippers replaced them. Bakya were demoted to shoes of low socio-economical groups and the term ‘bakya’ became synonymous with poor taste.

Several attempts have been made to relaunch the ‘bakya’ as a fashion style with appeal to the current market. To make ‘bakya’ stylish the traditional wooden base was shaped and a leather strap replaced the original plastic. Added comfort in the form of footbeds with heel gel cup and triple-layer sole features are also featured. The new bakya are available in a wide rang of styles for men, women and children.

The traditional Bakya Dance has young girls and boys teasing each other rhythmically with their bakya.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Wooden shoes in Antiquity

Although light sandals carved from smooth wood were discovered in the tombs of ancient Egyptians it is generally thought the Greeks then the Etruscan used pattens or clogs. Wooden shoes were exquisitely carved and worn high (platform style) to keep the feet dry. Some had sandal like straps whilst others had woven sheaths to cover the forefoot.

The wooden shoes were ornately decorated and sometimes included inlaid mother of pearl and silver. The wooden shoes were commonly used in bath houses and Indian and Persian clogs (knob sandals) were held next to the foot with a toe grip, similar to sandals.

Wood platform sandals were worn by the harem women and the unique sound of the wooden shoe hitting the tiled floors led the shoes to be called kap-kaps The fashion was most often found in the coastal areas of Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt, from the Nile to the Euphrates. The origins of kap-kaps remains clouded but most likely these were associated with ceremonial dress before they became a general fashion.

According to Rossi (2000) at Eastern weddings knobs on women’s sandals were connected by a small chain which required the bride to take small mincing steps, signifying the bride’s sub-servience to her husband.

Overshoes made from wood (pattens) were also know in Roman Times and worn by people living in the Ardennes region (Belgium and Luxembourg and parts of France). At the same time the French region of Ardenne was inhabited by the Gauls and the wooden overshoe became known as "galoche" which later evolved into galoshes. Wooden pattens were serviceable, hardwearing and provided protection from the wet ground. Romans wore wooden clogs in the hot baths and these were referred to as "Tyrrhenian sandals."

Wood was also used to make footwear in Japan where young girls went to the temple wearing wooden clogs or getas. These were platform wooden shoes often 3-4 inches from the ground and were worn with tabi, a special sock. The Geta were made from nezuko wood because it was waterproof, lightweight and hardwearing. Reference to clogs was common place in the songs, poems and novels of the Meiji period at the turn of this century.

For centuries Samuari warriors wore geta and zori sandals made from woven straw or wood.

Reviewed 4/01/2016

Friday, March 31, 2017


The mountainous areas of Northern Spain (Galicia, Asturias, Catabria and the Basque Country) and Castilla and Leon, Aragon and Catalonia, have a humid climate with a lot of rain which makes roads and fields very muddy. Traditional footwear local to these regions include madreñas which are wooden over shoes. Soles include added blocks to lift the feet from the mud. The shoes were made locally by village craftsmen and are highly decorated with carvings or painting. The design is usually different for men and women.

Madreñas are similar to Dutch and Sweden clogs and made from a single piece of wood of green alder, beech, walnut or less often brown poplar.