For the bulk of human history, even in the most advanced, cosmopolitan cities (such as London), streets were rough and downright filthy. Typically unpaved, mud was inevitable and thick. Garbage and human waste were commonly tossed from windows onto the street below, and imagine the quantity of horse droppings that must have been impossible to fully or expeditiously cart away. Not a pleasant vision, I know.
Sidewalks existed and were common in developed towns and cities, at least in the finer residential districts and shopping areas. Nevertheless, it was impossible to completely avoid crossing a muck-laden street. If visiting a country village or area of the city not so well-maintained, well, let’s just say one had to watch their step or end up knee-deep in something unmentionable!
One helpful invention were pattens. Worn by men and women, they began to appear in the Middle Ages and originally were a totally utilitarian device. Constructed of wooden soles and leather straps to secure to the wearer’s boots or shoes, the main purpose of pattens was to elevate the feet above the street mud and muck.
Until the 17th century, the term “patten” was used interchangeably with “clogs” and they were more commonly worn by the working-class ladies who were more apt to tread through unpaved alleys and less-maintained areas.
Around 1630, metal pattens appeared, the sole of wood or metal attached to an iron ring, as seen in two examples within the top collage below. Generally, the shoe straps of leather, metal, or heavy fabric were simply to secure the patten in place. Adding a touch of prettiness with a bow or colorful cloth wasn’t uncommon but not necessarily the norm. Most pattens offered minimal protection for the shoe itself although some did. Examples of the “overshoe” type pattens are seen in the second collage below.
Over time, men gravitated to sturdy boots protected by spats (or gaiters), leaving pattens as a primarily female choice to protect her delicate, costly shoes. By the 18th century when just about every item a women wore had to be gaudily decorated and of the priciest materials, even pattens grew fancy. Thinner soled varieties made from light-weight cork with upper straps ornately stitched and decorative were referred to as a “promenade clog” or “carriage clog,” an example up above.