Chinese Lotus Shoes


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Early 20th century lotus shoe for a bride. Early 20th century lotus shoe for a bride. TRC 2013.0061
Published in Chinese lotus shoes

6. Main forms of lotus shoes

Throughout the ages and all over the country, there were always various main types of shoes, such as day time shoes, night shoes, wedding shoes, funeral and mourning shoes, as well as outdoor shoes for when the weather is bad.

Day time shoes and boots

These shoes and boots were made in various materials such as cotton, silk and wool and made in a variety of forms depending on where the woman’s family came from, how wealthy they were and what were the latest fashions. There were flat sole, low heeled, or high heeled forms, as well as wedged heel versions. Over the centuries fashions changed, so before the mid-17th century most shoes were flat, but after this date fashionable shoes had heels that gradually increased in size. Such heels had the effect of making a foot look even smaller. By the 19th century heels had become relatively high and at the same time binding became tighter to create even smaller feet.

Pair of soft lotus shoes (early 20th century; TRC 2011.0048a-b).Pair of soft lotus shoes (early 20th century; TRC 2011.0048a-b).Sleeping or night shoes

These are similar to the daily flat shoes, but made out of softer material and with a soft-soles.

Wedding or bridal shoes

As the name suggests, these shoes were worn by the bride during the wedding ceremony. Normally they were predominately bright red in colour and made of silk or sometimes cotton. When they were decorated they had a simple embroidered or gold leaf decoration at the front of the shoe and sometimes on the soles. They were usually similar in shape to that of everyday shoes. The wedding shoes were worn by the bride during the festivities and in particular on her wedding night.

Pair of pattens with iron studs (cleats) worn over lotus shoes during bad weather (late 19th century; TRC 2014.0133a-b).  bPair of pattens with iron studs (cleats) worn over lotus shoes during bad weather (late 19th century; TRC 2014.0133a-b). Bad weather forms

There were various types of shoes and boots for bad weather, usually made of thick materials such as felt or leather. There were special types for when it was raining and others for walking in muddy streets. The latter normally had wooden soles studded with little iron or wooden pegs (cleats). During the winter time pattens with iron spikes were fastened to the soles of the shoes so that the women could walk on icy paths.

Hill over-soles

In some areas special soles made of straw rope were made for walking in hills and mountainous regions. These over soles could be fitted to the underside of a pair of shoes or boots and provided extra grip.

Pair of white, mourning lotus shoes with no decoration (late 19th century; TRC 2013.0058a-b).Pair of white, mourning lotus shoes with no decoration (late 19th century; TRC 2013.0058a-b).Mourning shoes

Special mourning shoes in white were worn by women after someone’s death. These were either pure white with a minimum amount of decoration, or white with white or grey embroidery.

Funeral shoes

Special shoes were made by women for their funerals. They were made out of dark blue cotton with no embroidery, except on the soles of the shoes. These were often decorated with an embroidered or painted lotus blossom, sometimes with a ladder. Together these forms symbolized a continual climb to heaven, with the lotus representing the concept of ‘continuity,’ and the ladder the ‘climb.’ These were usually kept in a safe place until required.