Shoes! Shoes! Shoes! You just love shoes!
So, what better way to enjoy your beloved fashion footwear without being tempted to buy more of it? Go visit one of the many great shoe museums in the world.
You probably didn’t know that shoe museums were a thing, did you? But they are.
You can find many fantastic shoe museums in many cities, large and small, celebrating the art of footwear.
What Will You See in Museums Full of Shoes?
You may be wondering why you should pay a ticket to go to a museum for footwear when going to a department store or shoe store is free! (Well, it will be free, until you drop a couple hundred bucks on those pair of fabulous stiletto heels.)
A museum dedicated to footwear displays more than just the latest fashions. Depending on the collection, you may be treated to a history of shoes throughout the ages, from the proverbial Roman sandal to the modern-day Croc comfort shoe.
You may be able to explore shoes from different cultures, such as the Japanese zori, which are sandals constructed from rice straw or wood that has been lacquered. These would be worn with the traditional kimono.
Not all cultures have worn shoes – for example, the people of Africa preferred bare feet for millennia. It was not until the Europeans began creating trade routes through Africa in the 1400s did Africans start to wear shoes. And, even then, it was usually the wealthier African who would wear these shoes inspired by the Europeans.
Still, shoes have had a long history in various cultures, and seeing the progression of shoe design – as well as art – can be quite fascinating whether you are an avowed shoe lover or not.
6 Great Shoe Museums to Visit Around the World
OK, so where you can go to see some amazing shoes? Everywhere, it seems.
Whether you are a fashionista looking to see some of the most expensive shoes ever made, or you are a curious person wanting to see something downright weird, the wild world of museums for shoes has something for you.
Here is our list of fabulous footwear museums to try, in no particular order of greatness:
1. Bata Shoe Museum – Toronto, Canada
Called the biggest and best shoe museum in the world by many, the Bata Shoe Museum is definitely the place to go if you are a serious shoe aficionado. Just how many shoes are available to see at this great museum of shoes? Well, we are told that approximately 12,000 shoes as well as “shoe-related objects” are on display in this vast 39,000-square-foot facility.
What might a “shoe-related object” be? Well, how about a grass sock that the Aleutian people in Alaska would wear on their feet? Or a Japanese sandal made from human hair? Some of the shoes on display in this wondrous museum are literally thousands of years old.
Whoever thought that shoes could be so fascinating? Well, maybe you, reading this article.
The Bata Shoe Museum was established by the Bata family, founders of the Bata Shoe Company. They are so invested in the integrity of their museum of footwear that they have actually banned the display of their own brand name Bata shoes from the museum.
The highlights of this fabulous collection include an Italian velvet-covered platform chopine from the 1500s. Chopines were made for women and were popular from the 1400s to 1600s. Unlike modern platforms, these shoes did not have a separate heel at the back but had a single pillar in the middle, upon which the shoe was placed.
This particular style of Renaissance shoe was so incredibly high that the person wearing it needed help to walk. Why was the shoe made to be so high? Well, back then, the higher the shoe, the more status you had.
However, these super tall chopine shoes became so dangerous that in 1430, Venice passed a law requiring the height of these fashionable shoes to be no more than three inches. This law was mostly ignored, however.
The Bata shoe collection also includes a variety of historical shoes from Native American and Circumpolar sources as well as celebrity fashion shoes.
Some of the items on display at Bata are not real shoes but sculptures of shoes. One of the most remarkable sculptures is “Steel Toe Boots #2” by Canadian ceramic artist Marilyn Levine from 1971. Upon first glance, this piece of art looks like a pair of highly worn and soiled work boots. The steel toe is poking out from the “leather” on both shoes. Dirty shoelaces drape across the weathered brown surface.
But this shoe sculpture wasn’t made out of leather, steel, or wood. It was made out of clay! This type of realistic three-dimensional art in clay is inspired by trompe l'oeil or visual illusion in art.
2. The World Famous Giant Shoe Museum – Seattle, WA
Seattle may be famous for its coffee and the sky-high Space Needle, but you may not have known it also houses the World Famous Giant Shoe Museum. Nestled in the also famous Pike’s Place Market next to the glistening Puget Sound, this museum of footwear fetish is all about the absolute biggest and best in giant shoe coverings.
For example, as advertised with a large, life-size picture, you can actually “see a shoe actually worn by the World’s Tallest Man.” “The Greatest Shoe on Earth!” is also on display. You can also see some really, really, really (we mean REALLY) long clown shoes.
In actuality, this “museum” is nothing more than a colorful wall with peepholes that you can look through for a few measly quarters. It is more of a Coney Island-style “sideshow” attraction that belongs on a boardwalk of yesteryear. Yet, this quaint shoe attraction is a neat little find in the midst of all the smelly fish in Pike’s Place Market.
The collection of giant shoes was started by Danny Eskenazi, who had a graphic designer create a mock-up of the wall display that was eventually approved by the City of Seattle.
The World’s Tallest Man’s shoe is unfortunately not part of a pair, but Eskenazi has placed a $1,000 reward for anyone who can provide the missing giant shoe.
3. Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine Shoe Museum – Philadelphia, PA
Temple University, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has a School of Podiatric Medicine (abbreviated TUSPM). In that school, there is an actual free museum displaying shoes! Yes, that’s right, Temple University has a museum for shoes that is free to the public.
The only catch is that you must call or email them first to schedule your visit. However, you can get a guided tour during your visit!
The TUSPM footwear collection includes approximately 900 pairs of fascinating shoes. At any given time, about 250 of these international shoes from various times are on display.
This podiatric museum was founded in 1976, which was the year the American Bicentennial was celebrated. This was the year that Elton John’s famous song “Philadelphia Freedom” became a huge hit, even though it was originally written to honor tennis player Billie Jean King’s team the Philadelphia Freedoms (ironically, the song is neither about tennis or American patriotism). Philadelphia, considered the birthplace of America and home of the Liberty Bell, has many patriotic attractions, including the famous cracked bell and Independence Park.
These two bicentennial attractions (the bell and the park) are only two blocks from Temple University’s School of Podiatric Medicine. Thus, the addition of a new museum for feet coverings was done to attract visits to the other more famous Philly attractions.
The majority of the museum’s collection comes from the 19th and 20th centuries, from all different countries. Some of the shoes shown are older. From the website:
“One unusual item is a pair of 200-year-old French "sabots," the wooden shoes that gave birth to the expression "sabotage." Other items in the collection include Egyptian burial sandals, bridal footwear, salesmen's miniature samples, children's shoes, shoe lasts, Malaysian clogs, Eskimo boots, a circus giant's size 18 shoes, iron diving boots, ballet shoes, and the huge shoe of a young victim of gigantism whose leg and foot weighed 58 pounds.”
Shoes owned by famous people include hoofers owned by Reggie Jackson, Andre Agassi, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sally Struthers.
The museum is ADA-compliant and has handicapped access.
4. SONS (Shoes Or No Shoes?) – Kruishoutem, Belgium
“Shoes Or No Shoes?” (SONS for short) is the cryptic name of this gallery of shoes and related artwork. Located in Belgium, the museum is housed in an incredibly striking and modern art space.
What is great about Shoes Or No Shoes? is that it offers more than just shoes. Like the Bata Museum, SONS houses shoe-related artwork, including 1,200 artistic objects by contemporary artists. Their “ethnographic” collection includes more than 2,700 pairs of footwear from more than 155 different areas of the world.
Celebrity shoes are included, as well as shoe designs by the most famous designers. You can also see a collection of cartoons about shoes and feet, as well as read texts by famous authors on the same footwear theme.
5. Marikina Shoe Museum – Marikina City, Philippines
The Marikina Shoe Museum in Marikina City, Philippines is special for one very important reason. It houses a large portion of the shoe collection of former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos.
Imelda Marcos was married to Ferdinand Marcos, who was a despised dictator of the Philippines and its tenth president. His reign lasts for approximately 20 years, from 1965 to 1985. During the 1980s, she became the target of a lot of criticism (and jokes) for her ridiculously massive luxury shoe collection. This expensive shoe collection symbolized the excess and corrupt lifestyle of the Marcos family while their country was living in poverty.
Well, now Ferdinand Marcos is dead, but Imelda Marcos retains her private wealth. The good news is, some of these Imelda Marcos shoes are now accessible to the people at the Marikina Shoe Museum. Other shoes of famous people are included in the quaint museum, as well as shoes from former Philippine presidents.
Marikina City is also known as the “Shoe Capital of the Philippines” due to being a “breeding ground” for shoe designers. During the height of the city in the 1970s, the metropolitan area had around 200,000 shoemakers and 7,000 shoe factories.
You can also see the largest pair of shoes in the world in Marikina City. Built in 2002, the Guinness Book of World Record shoes are 5.29 meters long and 2.37 meters wide. They are made of real leather for a total cost of approximately 2 million pesos.
6. Salvatore Ferragamo Museum – Florence, Italy
If you are interested in the fashion side of shoes, then you will definitely want to visit the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence, Italy. Before Manolo Blahniks, there were Ferragamos. Salvatore Ferragamo was one of the best fashion shoe designers who ever lived. He was born in 1898 and died in 1960.
His shoes graced the heels of Marilyn Monroe and Eva Peron, among other Hollywood and political royalty. He invented the “cage heel” women’s shoe design, still popular today. His oldest daughter also became a shoe designer and created the famous Vara pumps in 1978.
The Salvatore Ferragamo Museum opened in 1995, a few years before his eldest daughter’s death in 1998. His company lives on and is known for its high-quality fashion apparel, and, of course, shoes.
Tips on Visiting Museums Devoted to Shoes
Here are some tips on visiting museums dedicated to footwear. Since shoe museums do not necessarily get the (ahem) foot traffic of a broader art museum, you should check the hours and make sure they will be open when you plan to be visiting.
As we mentioned, the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine Shoe Museum requires reservations, so this may also be the case with other smaller shoe collections.
Some museums for shoes are free, but some do have a cost, so check with them first before you arrive.
Of course, it should go without saying, but wear good walking shoes when you visit a museum. You may be tempted to put on your best pair of designer stilettos, knowing that you will be surrounded by shoe glory once in the museum. However, avoid that temptation. No one will judge you for wearing comfortable shoes to a museum. And in this case, they will be too busy looking at the shoes on display to notice yours!
Join museum mailing lists to be notified of special exhibitions and events. And, to enjoy the current state of shoe design, look for fashion shows in your area dedicated to the latest and greatest footwear.
Oh, one more thing: While it might be tempting, do not touch the shoes on display. Most of the time, they will be in a case. However, touching the “art” will help degrade it faster due to the oils in your skin. So, look but don’t touch.
Love Shoes? Take a Trip to a Museum Soon!
Shoes are necessities in our modern world, but they can also be a form of art.
Fortunately, there are many places you can visit to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the art of shoemaking.
Even if it is literally just a “hole in the wall” at Pike Place Market in Seattle, a museum for shoes may be just around the corner from you.
You might also check your local museums for their current exhibitions, as many art museums will often have rotating shows that may include shoes.