Children's Shoes: Wooden Shoes--National Trends

Figure 1.--This image was probably taken in the 1900s and shows the dress of working-class Dutch children. Notice that the children are either barefoot are wearing wooden shoes. Two boys appear to be wearing a basic pinafore-type garment. Also notice the close cropped hair.

Wooden shoes appear to have been an exclusively European type of shoe. The Japanese appear to have worn wooden sandals, but not wooden shoes. In Europe they appear to have been most common in Holland, but in fact were widely worn throughout Western Europe. HBC is less sure about Eastern Europe. Wooden shoes were especially common in Holland. One source reports that wooden shoes were common in Holland because of the soggy soil an the availability of the right kind of wood for making wooden shoes. As a result, wooden shoes could still be found in rural areas of Holland after they have disappeared from most other areas of Europe.


A HBC reader tells us that wooden shoes were worn in Austria, but we have no details at this time.


Wooden shies are commonly associated with the Dutch, but they were also very commonly worn in Belgium. Wooden shoes were mostly worn for work. In the Dutch speaking part of Belgium they are called " blokken ” (singular “ blok ”) rather than “ klompen ” as in the Netherlands. They were worn in both the French and Dutch speaking areas of Belgium. There ware different kind off wooden shoes. The painting was most off all in a yellow colour. Over the colour was in that case a “little sheet” off varnish. A second one was white, no painting, and no varnish. The ware, as far as I know, always make of willow wood. There was also a wooden shoe with a leader cap (hood) above the shoe. Those shoes was mostly for people with a “difficult” feet. Some people have a little “bulb” above there feet’s and the could not using the conventional shoes. [Van Hoof]


Wooden shoes were also worn in Denmark, although we have few details. Ther pattern appears quite similar to the Netherlands.


HBC does not have an English wooden show page. There is a general clog/wooden shoe page. Clogs appear to have been more common in England than on the Continent.


The French term for wooen shoes is sabot. Presumably the word sabot is also the root of French and English word "sabotage" because sabots are in fact cheap substitutes for leather shoes that working-class people weould have preferred. When you walk with these, the entire house knows you are there and if you do this exercise during the play of some music, you are really sabotaging the music...! As in other European countries they were most commonly worn by peasants and workers. Children from these families were still wearing wooden shoes in early 20th cenbtury before World war I, especially in rural areas and villages. In modern France they are only seen in some folk costumes for ethnic events. A reader tells us, "From early time the " sabots " were never worn in Paris or big cities. Children wearing sabots were looked down on by fashion-minded Parisians."


Wooden shoes were widely worn by German peasants and workers. They were commonly worn because they were durable and inexpensive. And in muddy conditions prcticl. I am not sure to what extent children wore them, but suspect that if the father of the house wore wooden shoes--so did the children. We do not see many German children wearing wooden shoes in the photographic record. This probably reflects the relative unrepresentation of workers and peasants in the photographic record. Also of course, people tended to dress up for portraits. Some Germans even emigrated to America wearing wooden shoes. A German reader tells us that into the 1940s, "Wooden shoes (the 'Klocks' were very usual in The Netherlands (and some parts of Northern Germany); they are by no means the result of war-time shortages." We do notice a few school children wearing them.


Wooden shoes in Ireland were refeered to as "clogs". Dancing in wooden shoes was an important influence on modern Irish step dancing. Actually one of the current issues in Irish dance is the hammering or battering effect that some dancers now try to produce.

(The) Netherlands

Wooden shoes are called "klompen" in Dutch. Holland a few centuries ago had thousands of clogmakers. At that time, almost all clogs were made by farmers. Specialize tools were not needed. These old fashioned, handmade clogs were for the most part created using tools that the faarmers already had and were use for various other purposes. A folk tradition developed. Many farmers decorated the shoes that they made. The Dutch tradition of clog making began to change in the late 19th century, There had always been some clog makers in cities who produced clogs as their main occupation. The number of selfemployed clogmakers started to increase after 1870. That was not only the result of the increased population, but even more importantly because of the agricultural changes in the Netherlands. The ordinary farmer didn't have enough time left to produce clogs. We are not sure how common wooden shoes were after World War I. We don't see them very commonly in the photographic record, although our Futch archive is limited. We do note some school portrairs with many boys wearing wooden shoes. It is likely that World War II gave klompen a new lease on life. Leather shoes probably were in very short supply during the War, especailly the later years of the War.One HBC reader tells us that Wooden shoes were common in the Netherlands. ntil the late 1950s. Nowadays boys in rural areas may still wear them--although it is no longer as common as it once was. One Dutch reader, reports, "They are cheap, durable and comfortable. Another reader tells that it is a mistake to think of wooden shoes as a thing of the past. He writes, "I would like to point out that the farmer in Holland still wears his wooden shoes. Not because of the tourists gaping at him but rather because it is a sensible choice for him in the wet fields of Holland. A few years ago, the European commission decided that wooden shoes were not safe to wear and should be outlawed in industry. Formal tests were carried out and it was decided from these tests that wooden shoes were very safe indeed. While it is true that for the average person, used to leather shoes or sneakers, it may sound very uncomfortable to wear wooden shoes, the truth is that a pair of 'klompen', properly sized and worn with woolen socks is very easy to wear. You should see the kids in the rural areas of Holland run and play, while wearing wooden shoes!" Dutch clogs were made out of poplar. Poplar has a fiber that is tough but still flexible during the working of the wood. Poplar wears well, and gives the clog a long life.





A Swedish reader tells us, "Wooden shoes and clogs have been worn in this country, especially in the country-side. I guess if you go north you will find the wooden shoes among the Laplandic people! Clogs with the leather top was/is very popular even today, but not so much among children! They can actually be quite dangerous if you slip or for example if your foot will loose its grip and drop out in a stair-case."

Other Countries

HBC has little additional information, but suspect that they may have been worn in most countries of northern Europe.


Van Hoof, Willy. E-mail message, February 2, 2004.


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Created: February 21, 2001
Last updated: 7:13 PM 11/23/2008