A brief history of clogs a.k.a. klompen
Clogs - those wooden shoes you can often find tiny versions of on key rings or as ornaments in gift shops. They are a typical symbol for the Netherlands, but are they Dutch, and how did they come about?
What are clogs?
Firstly, let’s get any confusion out of the way. Clogs are footwear, which are in whole or part made from wood.
Whilst we might think of clogs as those wooden shoes that cover your whole foot, many other types of wooden shoes fall under the same category, for example, the Japanese Geta or the Cantabrian albarcas from Spain. We are going to focus on the Dutch version - the one that practically covers your whole foot.
When were the first clogs worn?
It is not clear when clogs first took shape; however, the first clogs found in the Netherlands date back to 1230 AD, and were found in Nieuwendijk, Amsterdam. These clogs were made from alder wood.
Originally, clogs were made out of one piece of wood and proved handy for protecting your feet against the dirt on the ground. They took their inspiration from “calceus” shoes, which were worn in the days of the Roman Empire. These shoes had a wooden sole, leather straps on top and resembled sandals. The clog changed its form to adapt to the harsher weather in the Netherlands.
The craftsmen who made these clogs were called “bodgers”; “bodging” being a traditional woodturning craft. Alder, balsa, willow, beech and sycamore were the preferred wood types of these craftsmen, as they did not split easily.
Who wore clogs?
Clogs were worn by both men and women and became the ideal choice for those working in the mines, on the farms and in construction, as they provided support, warmth and protection without needing to be reinforced. The clog is even certified as a safety shoe by the European Union!
Villages had their own “bodger” and this resulted in different styles of clog and decoration for every village.
When shoemaking became industrialised, the manufacture of wooden shoes experienced a decline. It picked up again briefly in the World Wars when materials for shoes became scarce and wooden shoes were the perfect alternative. Today, wooden clogs are still worn in farming regions; however, many tend to wear modern shoes.
Clogs didn’t stop being useful when they were worn out or rotten. When this was the case, they were used to fuel the fire.