Anyone who follows fashion knows that certain trends tend reappear time and again. You might be surprised by how far back in human history some fads go. Even the most fashion-forward footwear has its roots in centuries-old style. As society continues to shift and change, we can still see the influence of ancient Greeks and Romans on our current fashion trends and footwear.
When you think of ancient Greek and Roman fashion, what instantly comes to mind? Probably long, flowing togas embroidered with gold and silver, and tall, strappy sandals made from leather, with incredible, flawless detailing. This fashion choice wasn’t merely a stylish trend, but was in fact influenced by these civilizations’ religious and cultural beliefs.
Although the Greek and Roman empires were established at different times, they shared similar religious and cultural beliefs. Both the Greeks and Romans were polytheistic – that is, they worshipped many mythical gods and goddesses, who affected their daily lives, including their fashion choices. Throughout ancient civilization, these gods were frequently depicted in elaborate clothing made of gold and other precious materials. The Roman god Jupiter, for example, is often portrayed in toga-like garments and tall strappy sandals. The same is true of the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, who is depicted in long, flowing gowns and extravagant sandals.
Fashion during this time period was influenced not only by the gods, but also by the most popular forms of entertainment. Both the Greeks and Romans enjoyed entertainment that showcased their physical abilities. The Greeks famously developed the Olympic games, but it was the Romans whose chosen form of entertainment gave us our most popular fashion trend from the era.
Gladiator sandals mimic the style of shoes that gladiators of the Roman Empire wore as they battled in massive coliseums. Prominent historical figures like the great Roman general Julius Caesar and the brilliant Greek philosopher-mathematician Pythagoras sported this iconic shoe. You’d be hard-pressed to find a depiction of any of the ancient Roman or Greek gods and goddesses that did not include the classic lace-up silhouette of a gladiator sandal. This style has been imitated in many Hollywood feature films, such as the 2004 movie Troy.
It may seem strange that sandals, which we think of as casual attire nowadays, were the footwear of choice for ancient Greek and Roman warriors and thinkers (whereas slaves, peasants, and lower-class constituents mostly went barefoot), but it makes sense. Sandals actually pre-dated Greek and Roman culture (early versions were crafted from materials like papyrus and palm leaves), but shoemakers in these cultures began to refine the design of the shoe.
Romans approached shoe design with functionality in mind: they needed to be comfortable and durable in order to survive the long treks taken by people in this ever-expanding civilization. The heavy leather and hobnails used to craft the sandals were sturdy, but the open style made them more comfortable to wear in desert climates.
Greeks, on the hand, prioritized elegance and style, and their approach to fashion has persevered to this day. A strappy sandal with a flowing gown is similar to the look Greeks popularized centuries ago.
Greek & Roman Influence Today
The ancient Roman Empire fell nearly two thousand years ago, and the period defined as the ancient Greek era ended before that. But fashions from these eras have persisted. The materials we use today have changed, but the ancient style influences today’s designer shoes. For instance, take the flat sole and t-strap of this Tory Burch Pacey Flat Sandal; it evokes the simple silhouette of a classic shoe. Instead of papyrus, it is crafted from delicate leather and subtle gold hardware. These sandals have become more stylish and less functional – the eye-catching gladiator sandal by Michael Kors2 is adorned by stunning gold braiding. Perhaps it wouldn’t be ideal for a battle or sporting event, but it’s great for the catwalk or sidewalk.
Probably the most famous of all the ancient shoe trends, the boot-style gladiator sandal, is still popular today. Ancient Greeks were the first civilization to introduce boots as part of their wardrobe.
Nowadays, we continue to imitate this timeless style in a variety of ways. Recently, Stuart Weitzman has developed a taller sandal (as seen below) in order to provide more protection and comfort to the wearer, just as the style did in ancient Greece.
Although today’s designers have made this style a modern wardrobe staple, the elegance and functionality of these designer sandals are inexorably rooted in history.