Pair of shoes for a woman's bound feet, 1850-1950. Museum no. FE.49:1-1999

Pair of shoes for a woman's bound feet, 1850-1950. Museum no. FE.49:1-1999

Pair of shoes for a woman's bound feet
China
About 1850-1950
Embroidered mauve and black silk
Museum no. FE.49:1-1999

The ritual deformation of women's feet by restrictive binding was a Chinese tradition that only died out in the last century. Often no more than ten centimetres long and sometimes no more than a thumb's width across, exquisite shoes were required both to conceal and display these feet. A curious dialogue existed between erotic beauty and this physical deformity: men sought sexual contact with the Lotus Foot.

European travellers in the nineteenth century noted that the swaddling produced a distinctive smell. Not only did foot-binding restrict the 'vaine walkes' of Chinese women, it created a body part that was often seen as sexually charged.

Stephen Bayley, Guest Curator