I’ve recently moved into a new bedroom following the construction of an extension to our home. We now have three good-sized bedrooms, and my son has decamped into my old room from the pokey box he put up with for several years following our move to this house.
It was an opportunity to have a good old clear out of all clothing that I’ve inexplicably hung on to, clothes that I bought but barely wore, or was hoping one day to fit back into. It’s quite cathartic getting rid of all that stuff, and I filled bag upon bag of unwanted items. As you do it, you ask yourself why on earth you hang on to it all. There were not enough days in the year to wear everything I kept in my wardrobe. Thankfully, there are plenty of clothing banks nearby and I hope someone will now be benefitting from all that excess of fabric in some way.
One of the most difficult things to get rid of is shoes. I love a pair of glamorous heels, although now I’m at the age where comfort is more important than glamour. I used to be able to convincingly rock a pair of stilettos and walk elegantly down the street with my head held high. Nowadays, if I’m in heels, it’s more of a wobbly-legged stagger you’d associate with a man in drag.
I did manage to let go of a few pairs, although I have hung on to more than I should, knowing that it is unlikely I will wear them again. But I just can’t bring myself to give them away. Not yet, anyway.
There are many beliefs and superstitions relating to shoes, as my dad reveals in his column from 19th January 1980. A friend had asked him why a shoe is tied to the back of a car used by a newly married couple. I’ve not been to a wedding for a number of years, but in the 1990s when I got married, it was common to have empty cans tied to the back bumper and they’d make an almighty clatter as they bounced along behind you.
In ancient Egypt, the bride’s father would hand her shoes to the groom, signifying that the responsibility for his daughter had now passed to his son-in-law. In Anglo-Saxon times, the father would give the groom one of his daughter’s shoes, and she had to lightly touch her own head with it to signify that she would be obedient to her new husband. By Tudor times, it became customary to throw shoes after the departing couple, and if one hit the groom, it would bring good luck. It is this custom that we think evolved into the tying of shoes behind the vehicle (somewhat less hazardous, one would imagine).
But it’s not just bridal couples who had to watch out for flying footwear. Shoes were also thrown after departing ships, or after people setting off on a long journey, or after those embarking on a new enterprise, to bestow good fortune on all involved.
But shoes are not always associated with good luck. Criminals would be beset by fear if they came across a boot or shoe left on a table, as that meant someone was bound to die by hanging, either the owner of the shoes, the householder, or the person who spotted them.
I’ve inherited a useful book from my dad about superstitions, and it features a bewildering number linked to shoes. There are superstitions associated with burning shoes, with shoes and Christmas, with putting shoes on a table, with putting shoes in a particular position, with shoes squeaking, with the act of putting shoes on, with throwing shoes and with simply wearing shoes.
But there is one of which I think we all need to take note, and that is to make sure we put the correct shoe on the correct foot first. According to Scottish folklore, if you want to ensure you have a good day, then you need to put the right one on before the left. However, according to Yorkshire folklore, putting your right one on first is unlucky. So it’s a lucking minefield!
But both traditions agree that if you inadvertently put your left shoe on the right foot, then an accident will soon befall you.
I think I’ll play it safe and just go barefoot.
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