Male Clothing V – Footwear

Dada a extensão deste artigo, achei por bem publicar as versões inglesa e portuguesa em separado. Para a versão portuguesa, cliquem aqui.

Now that essential garments have been dealt with, there’s only one part of the body left: the feet. What did 15th century men’s footwear look like in Portugal? 

Materials and Construction

Shoemaker Ott Norlinger (1476), portrayed in the Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwolfbruderstiftung of Nuremberg.

Leather is one of the most versatile raw materials of the entire Middle Ages. It is the quintessential material for belts, bags and, fundamentally, footwear. The most affordable leather for lower classes shoes was well-oiled cow leather [1]. Although leather could be dyed, it was unlikely that common people would have been able to buy leather in anything other than its natural colour – at most, faded blacks and browns, two of the least expensive shades available. After cow leather came sheep leather [2], and  after that came cordovão (cordovan), footwear material par excellence for late medieval footwear in Portugal: it was obtained from “macerated goat skin” [3] and could dyed in a myriad of colours – reds were always perennial favourites. At the top end of the scale were fine deer or buck leather, reserved for the wealthy [4].

Detail of interior lacing in the Master of Schotten’s Ecce Homo do (ca. 1469-1475).

After being carefully drawn onto leather, the pieces of the medieval shoe were transferred onto a wooden mold (called a last) and sewn with waxed linen thread. The shoe was then turned from the inside out, thus concealing the inside seams – hence the name ‘turn-shoe’ in English [5]. Medieval shoes were thinner than modern shoes – particularly  the sole – and functioned somewhat like a leather sock, allowing for much greater freedom of movement of the feet and toes. As a result, they also wore out faster, and required more regular replacement, than their modern counterparts.

Different Names, Different Models, Different Occasions

As with almost every material expression of the era, shoes mirrored their wearer’s social status – in terms of decoration, in terms of refinement (or lack thereof), and in terms of shape. The different types of historical records at our disposal – inventories, price tables, iconography – give us a good idea of the various types of footwear available to 15th century Portuguese men. Having said that, and in good medieval fashion, confusion abounds in historical sources and scholarly works examining them: borzeguins, for example, are listed in price tables and regulations alongside other low shoes, but they are described both as a low shoe and as boots; chapins are described sometimes as pattens, and other times as fashionable slippers. In listing these different types of shoe, I’ll be pointing out any inconsistencies in nomenclature. Caveat lector!

Shoes 6.jpg
Footwear galore. From left to right: sapatos, borzeguins, botas, sapatos, pontilhas. Detail from the painting The Flagellation of Christ, by Jaume Hughet (ca. 1450).


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Socos on the steep and servilhas on the feet. Detail of ‘Avarice’ in the Roman de la rose  (ca. 1490-1500).

It was cheaper for the poor to invest in rough but sturdy wooden socos (clogs) – shoes made entirely out of wood, or made with a wooden sole to which a leather upper was nailed. In 15th century Portugal, a pair of clogs seems to have cost as much as a decent pair of shoes [6], but they did preclude the need for constant replacement.


Late 14th century sapato (borzeguim?), found in the Thames. Museum of London, A3661.

The most common 15th century shoes in Portugal are sapatos – ‘shoes’, in English. Sapatos covered the whole foot, and featured anything from no shaft at all to a small length of shaft up to the ankle. Shoes could be open over the instep and fastened around the ankle – some authors believe that this type of shoe was called borzeguim, although they seem to have been in a minority against those who thought of them as boots (see below). Sapatos could have poulaines (pointy toes) or more rounded toes, depending on one’s means and the fashion du jour. They were fastened by simple leather laces or straps, or even buckles. A distinct type of shoe, called gramaia, was  favoured by the wealthy: 15th century price tables show a clear difference in quality, refinement and prestige between gramaias and simpler sapatos [7] – though what that distinction entailed in practice has been lost to time.

Shoes 4.png
Several shoes in the tapestry The Taking of Tangier (ca. 1475). Notice how each toe is individually contoured against the leather – a sign of how close-fitting and relatively thin 15th century shoes could be.


Pontilhas (poulaines) are the shoe of choice for the elegant, the wealthy, and the fashion-conscious. The poulaine technically is the shoe’s pointy toe or spike, which explains why every pontilha looks like a normal sapato with a pointy toe. The leather end was stuffed with various materials – moss, carded wool, animal hairs – and then firmly stitched closed [8]. By the end of the 15th century, unlike previous decades, it was no longer common for the tip to be turned/curved upwards; it is usually straight, raised only slightly at the tip.

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Sapatos (esquerda) and pontilhas (direita) in René I d’Anjou’s Traité de la forme et devis comme on peut faire les tournois (ca. 1460).

Botins and Botas, Borzeguins and Osas

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Detail of  Afonso V’s boots in the Panel of the Prince of the Saint Vincent Panels (ca. 1470).

15th century botins (ankle boots) – also called osas, in Portuguese – are, in their simplest form, simply  a sapato with a bit of shaft. Just like shoes, they’re form-fitting, they can have pointy or rounded toes, and they can be fastened by leather laces or buckled straps.

Botas (boots), on the other  hand, could have a slightly loose shaft reaching anywhere between the top of the calf and the thigh, with laces or buckles pulling excess material tight against the leg. Tall boots were a hallmark of the nobility – the higher they reach, the better. It wasn’t just that they were expensive and labour-intensive, which they certainly were [9]: tall boots are the best footwear for riding in the Middle Ages, and are indelibly associated with the figure of the noble rider in Europe – more specifically the ginete, in Portugal [10].

Finally, we have borzeguins. As previously pointed out, there seems to be some confusion regarding the term borzeguim [11], in that they commonly refer to boots which can go all the way up to the knee – even though they’re usually listed alongside low shoes. Unlike other types of boot, borzeguins seem to have been form-fitting footwear, made of extremely fine cordovan worn tightly against the leg [12]. For that reason, borzeguins rarely had laces or straps – though they could have lacing on the side to ensure an even tighter fit. They could reach anywhere between the top of the ankle and the knee, and be turned at the top. Borzeguins were expensive by definition – the shoe of the wealthy [13].

Servilhas and Pantufos

Shoes 5.png
Pantufos in Fernando Gallego’s Ecce Hommo (ca. 1480-1500).

Servilhas and pantufos are somewhat mysterious pieces. According to contemporary records, both could have corresponded to modern-day sandals or slippers – wooden soles with elegant leather straps or uppers covering just the front of the foot. It is hard to determine how servilhas differed from other pieces such as chapins (see below). Pantufos, on the other hand,  differed little in shape from modern-day slippers, though they had lots in common with types of soco of the lower classes.


Detail of chapins in the Arnolfini Portrait (ca. 1434).

Chapins are the medieval answer to muddy, dirty urban roads and alleyways. Most chapins resembled sandals or platform shoes with a thick sole of wood or cork, with one or two adjustable leather  straps [14]. This form of chapim, which corresponded to the English patten or overshoe, was always worn in conjunction with other types of shoe, never on its own, and could be found on the feet of (almost) all and sundry – from lowly worksmen to great lords. 


Other than being dyed in a pretty colour, or perhaps an ornamental buckle, ordinary men’s shoes bore little to no decoration. For the wealthy, however, shoes could be decorated with a wide array of techniques – including cut-outs, embroidery, embossing and stamping, and fabric linings, among others [15].

Footwear in Reenactment

Soles. Soles, soles, soles. They’re undoubtedly the biggest problem in recreating medieval footwear. Our modern little feet have a hard time coping with the lack of protection against the roughness of the ground. Thick soles are to be avoided at all costs, especially if they’re nailed to the shoe’s upper. Pay close attention to the model of shoe before purchasing.  Shoes from earlier centuries — Norman shoes, ‘Viking’ shoes, for example —, whose resemblance to 15th century footwear can hardly be described as superficial, are often taken as valid by the unwary or the uncaring would-be-reenactor.

Reenactment footwear is similar to modern footwear in one way, and one way only: you get what you pay for. Never skimp on proper shoes. Two pairs of decent shoes in your wardrobe are better than a cute sword in your hands.

[1] Oliveira Marques, A. (2010). A Sociedade Medieval Portuguesa – Aspectos do Quotidiano. Lisboa: Esfera dos Livros, p. 67.

[2] On this subject, there are several regulations concerning prices and materials for medieval shoes in Ferreira, S. (2007). Preços e Salários em Portugal na Baixa Idade Média [Master’s Thesis]. Porto: Faculdade de Letras do Porto, pp. 114-118.

[3] Oliveira Marques, A. (1971), op. cit., pp. 66-67. Not to be mistaken for modern shell cordovan, made out of equine leather and used in high-end footwear.

[4] At least according to the prices and requirements listed for similar items in the first quarter of the century, in Ferreira, S. (2007), op. cit., pp. 114-115.

[5] Regarding the construction of medieval shoes, see Grew, F., De Neergaard, M. (2001). Shoes and Pattens – Museum of London. The Boydell Press: Woodbridge, pp. 46-51.

[6] Socos could also have been made with a cordovan upper. Compare the prices between socos and sapatos in a  municipal ordinance from Porto in 1482: ’80 reais for a pair of borzeguins (the same as 1480, in the region of Entre Tejo and Guadiana) or socos and from 12 to 32 reais per pair of shoes’ [my translation] (‘80 reais para o par de borzeguins (o mesmo de 1480, na comarca de Entre Tejo e Guadiana) ou socos e de 12 a 32 reais por par de sapatos’) . In Ferreira, S. (2007), op. cit., p. 116. It’s also possible that there may be some confunsion between socos and chapins, for example.

[7] ‘The term gramaia meant a type of shoe distinct from the poulaine, but just as expensive; we know nothing about its form’. Oliveira Marques, A. (1971), op. cit., p. 67.

[8] See Goubitz, O. et al. (2007). Stepping Through Time: Archaeological Footwear from Prehistoric Times Until 1800. Zwolle: Stichting Promotie Archeologie , p. 30.

[9] Ferreira, S. (2007), op. cit., pp. 114-115. We’re once again limited to the beginning of the century, but logic dictates that these tendencies – still in force today – were maintained throughout the 15th century.

[10] Hence their inclusion in, for example, the Pastrana Tapestries, or the effigy of D. Duarte de Meneses.

[11] Oliveira Marques, A. (1971), op. cit., p. 67.

[12] ‘Borzeguim – Footwear. Tall boot, reaching halfway up the leg, usually made out of leather, fastened by laces’ [my translation] (‘Borzeguim – Calçado. Bota de cano alto, que pode chegar até meio da perna, usualmente em couro, que se ata com cordões’). In de Oliveira, A. and Fernandes, I. (2004). ‘Ofícios e mesteres vimaranenses nos séculos XV e XVI’. In Revista de Guimarães, 113/114. Guimarães: Sociedade Martins Sarmento, p. 182. Cândido de Figueiredo’s 1913 Novo Diccionário da Língua Portuguesa says much the same. See Cândido de Figueiredo, A. (1913). Novo Diccionário da Língua Portuguesa. Lisboa: Livraria Clássica.

[13] ‘A fixed price table ordered by Afonso V for the county of Entre Tejo e Guadiana in 1480 only mentions cordovan and ram’s leather as raw materials, with cordovan still as the most expensive material (…) Between the 80 reais for the biggest pair of cordovan borzeguins and the 19 reais for a pair of ram’s servilhas there was a 321% difference’ [my translation] (‘Em 1480, num tabelamento ordenado por D. Afonso V para a comarca de Entre Tejo e Guadiana, apenas se referem o cordovão e o carneiro como matérias-primas, sendo que o cordovão continuava mais dispendioso (…) Entre 80 reais do maior par de borzeguins de cordovão e 19 reais de um par de servilhas de carneiro ia uma diferença de 321%’). In Ferreira, S. (2007), op. cit., p. 116.

[14] See de Oliveira, A. and Fernandes, I. (2004). ‘Ofícios e mesteres vimaranenses nos séculos XV e XVI’. In Revista de Guimarães, 113/114. Guimarães: Sociedade Martins Sarmento, p. 187.

[15] A good summary of these techniques, with several examples, in Grew, F., De Neergaard, M. (2001). Shoes and Pattens – Museum of London. The Boydell Press: Woodbridge, pp. 75-89.


de Oliveira, A. and Fernandes, I. (2004). ‘Ofícios e mesteres vimaranenses nos séculos XV e XVI’. In Revista de Guimarães, 113/114. Guimarães: Sociedade Martins Sarmento, pp. 43-209

Ferreira, S. (2007). Preços e Salários em Portugal na Baixa Idade Média [Master’s Thesis]. Porto: Faculdade de Letras do Porto

Goubitz, O. et al. (2007). Stepping Through Time: Archaeological Footwear from Prehistoric Times Until 1800. Zwolle: Stichting Promotie Archeologie 

Grew, F., De Neergaard, M. (2001). Shoes and Pattens – Museum of London. The Boydell Press: Woodbridge

Oliveira Marques, A. (1971). Daily Life in Portugal in the Late Middle Ages. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press

Madrazo, C. (1979). Trajes y modas en la España de los Reyes Católicos: II, Los hombres. Madrid: Instituto Diego Velázquez

Madrazo, C. (1962). Indumentaria española en tiempos de Carlos V. Madrid: Instituto Diego Velázquez


(ca. 1475). The Taking of Tangier [wool and silk]. Tapestry. Pastrana: Parish Tapestry Museum. Retrieved frománger)

Anonymous (ca. 1490-1500). Roman de la Rose. London: British Library, Harley 4425.

Gallego, F. (ca. 1480-1500). Ecce Hommo [oil on wood]. Tucson: University of Arizona Museum of Art

Gonçalves, N. (ca. 1470). Saint Vincent Panels [oil and tempera on wood]. Lisboa: Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga. Retrieved froméis_de_São_Vicente_de_Fora#/media/File:Lagos40_kopie.jpg

Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwolfbruderstiftung (end of the 14th century to the early 16th century). Nuremberg: Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg

Hughet, J. (ca. 1450). Flagellation of Christ [oil on wood]. Paris: Musée du Louvre

Master of Schotten (ca. 1469-1475). Ecce Hommo [oil on wood]. Vienna: Schottenstift 

van Eyck, B.  (?) (ilust.) (ca. 1460). Traité de la forme et devis comme on peut faire les tournois. Paris: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 2695

van Eyck, J. (ca. 1434). The Arnolfini Portrait [oil on wood]. London: National Gallery


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