Every Boot Does Not Fit Every Foot

This exhibition, having such a provocative title, represents unique footwear of the 18th-20th centuries from the collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography. The geographical range of the exhibition is exceptionally vast. Here one can see traditional footwear of the peoples of Central, Northwestern, and Southwestern parts of Russia, as well as from the Volga and the Urals regions, Siberia and the Far East, Central Asia, Kazakhstan, and the Caucasus. Even this brief list gives an idea of the diversity of the exhibited items, because footwear in the preindustrial period was indissolubly linked with the climatic, economical and cultural conditions of each specific region. Nevertheless, the varieties of footwear and the materials, which were used for its producing, especially strike the imagination. Not only leather, highly valued by shoe-shoppers today, but also felt, fur, wood, birch bark, cotton threads and such exotic materials as feathers and fish skin were successfully used for the most essential part of human clothing since the time of the upper Paleolithic.

The first section of the exhibition “Traditional footwear of Eastern Slavs” represents the objects, collected in the northwestern, southeastern and central areas of European Russia as well as in the Ukraine and Byelorussia.  The selection and presentation of the items in this section are done so that the visitor could get a complete idea of historical development of Slavic footwear, evolution of the shoemaking craft and traditional forms of social stratification. That’s why this section represents such an archaic type of footwear as lapti, made of birch bark or bast, and at the same time, shoes, boots and thick-soled leather koty which replaced them as daily footwear in the beginning of the 20th century, as well as high boots, preferred by urban population in the 19th century. Also displayed are special footwear for hunting, rafting and fishing (brodni, bahily) and the tools used by shoemakers.

The structure of the next two sections “Footwear of Finno-Ugrian Peoples of Northwestern Russia and the Baltic Region” and “Footwear of the Peoples of the Volga and the Urals Regions” gives one more chance to illustrate an important subject of cultural interchange between the ethnically different peoples. For example, as it is shown in the first section, the similarity between the footwear of the northern group of the Russians and of their neighbors Karelians, Izhors, and Vepses was very strong because in both cases lapti and postoly (a kind of primitive sandals made of one piece of leather) persisted as main footwear for a long time. However, among the peoples of the Baltic region wooden shoes cloumpes resembling French sabo, carved of birch, aspen, and alder, were also widespread.

The situation with the footwear of the peoples of the Volga and the Urals regions was quite similar. Here, one can also see how neat and elegant such a modest kind of footwear as bast shoes could look. The Finno-Ugrian peoples of the Volga region (the Mari, Udmurts, Mordovians, Komi) were experts in their production, because they used bast shoes both as daily and festive footwear. They were decorated with elaborate woven ornaments on the frontal part in order to distinguish easily between the left and the right shoe. At the same time rich families preferred to buy high boots made of morocco, or cotat (low leather boots, trimmed with colored flannel). This type of footwear was mostly manufactured by Tartar shoemakers.

The next section “Footwear of the Peoples of Siberia and the Far East” contains a lot of unique items. As hunters, fishermen, and cattle- and reindeer breeders, these peoples received from nature all the necessary materials. Therefore, reindeer breeders made their footwear from reindeer skins; hunters used furs, skins, intestines, or bird feathers, while fishermen preferred using fish skin.

The section “Traditional Footwear of Central Asian and Kazakhstan peoples” has an equally unique character. Following the same principles as in the previous sections, the exhibition crew selected the most representative items, which, on the one hand, illustrate special forms of adaptation of these peoples to the environment and, on the other hand, give a clear notion of different cross-cultural relations linked with ethnic and social processes in the region with a millennial history. The section shows morocco ichigi and kaushi, low leather boots that were used by town people as domestic footwear, as well as high-heeled wooden shoes with curved toes of the Tajik Pamir highlanders.

The last but not the least section is “Footwear of the Peoples of the Caucasus”. Its character resembles the previous ones. Here a visitor can take a look at knitted socks and stockings with high tops, felt boots with curved toes typical of the peoples of the Northern Caucasus, Armenian leather charyks, and soft boots of fine morocco, used as festive footwear for Armenians, Georgians and the peoples of Daghestan. One cannot forget those wooden stands (a kind of buskins) of a noble Kabardinian bride, on which she stood during the wedding ceremony.


Space required - approximately 150 square meters.

Number of objects about 150.