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Boots aren’t just made for walking. On the contrary, footwear has captivated hearts and minds worldwide for centuries.

Whether a pair of crystalline embellished slippers, or thigh high boots with platform heels, shoes show our personalities, moods and social status.

That’s the premise behind “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain,” an exhibition opening Saturday at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., examining the history and cultural relevance of what we strap to our soles.

“We’re all born with bare feet and shoes facilitate our movement, but shoes also reveal our identity,” said Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, coordinating curator for the exhibition.

The show, organized by the London based Victoria and Albert Museum, is comprised of boots, slippers, pumps, loafers and sandals from around the world dating to the 17th century.

One classic example of affluence and power wrapped into a shoe is the high heel. Functionality and comfort are often overlooked in their design.

In 1993, supermodel Naomi Campbell made headlines when she stumbled on a Paris runway during Fashion Week. The Vivienne Westwood platforms Campbell was wearing a pair of cobalt blue, mock crocodile skin shoes with 9 inch heels became icons overnight.

Also on display are several pairs from high end retailers such as Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik, made famous by the HBO series Sex and the City. One pair of men’s golf shoes by Prada is covered in colored rhinestones.

“You would never assume they’re something men would play golf in,” Roscoe Hartigan said.

But this exhibition is more than just a display of exclusive footwear. There are shoes used for foot binding, an ancient Chinese custom in which a girl’s four toes constricted to prevent growth. One pair of silk, cotton and metal wrapped lotus shoes is just 4 inches long.

Until the 1600s, shoes were made to fit an individual. By mid century, Europe’s middle class population exploded and ready to wear shoes became available.
golf polo shirts Never enough shoes