Clumpy, garish and the victim of many a fashion critic, square-toe shoes are given a bad reputation. But after years spent hiding at the back of closets, these angular kicks are making a comeback, despite their rocky journey through the history books.
While a pointed or round-toe shoe has reigned supreme throughout much of recent history, the square-toe style has been around since the medieval age, when wooden blocks were strapped to the feet of commoners. Sandals or closed-toe shoes were reserved for the upper classes, while the poor had to field splinters as they clobbered their way through the streets.
The block shape of these early shoes had two major design flaws: firstly, the clunky style was very difficult to fit into a horse’s stirrup; and secondly, the toe shape made it difficult for the wearer to distinguish which shoe went on which foot. It was a tough call.
As fashion became more extravagant through the ages, so did shoe style. By the reign of King Henry VIII, the toe had moved on from the practical curve favoured by horse-riders to the extravagant, bordering-on-ridiculous style that was used as a means to indicate status. The length of one’s toe represented their holding in society, with the king and his court favouring long-toed square-edge shoes that became known as foot bags.
Throughout the following centuries, shoes angled their way back to a more pointed toe, and when right and left shoes were introduced in 1790, square-toe shoes all but disappeared. Men switched to costumed court shoes, while women favoured an almond toe, and it wasn’t until the early 20th century that square toes even began to reappear among the stylish set.
Many credit American footballer Lou Groza with their resurgence. In the 1940s, he earned himself the nickname “The Toe” thanks to his technique of kicking the ball front-on, therefore requiring blunt-edged footwear for the job. During the same period, the first cowboy boots began to appear in America, many of which featured the same blunted toe.
After this, a square toe became commonplace in men’s footwear, with many formal shoes designed in the geometric style. By the 1960s, square-toe courtshoes became the go-to style for women, falling away to the towering rounded platforms that dominated the 1970s.
Like many trends that are now looked back on in horror, it was during the 1990s that square-toe shoes really had their moment in the spotlight. Prada led the way with closed-toe kitten heels, before the style was adapted for boots and barely-there sandals.
Fast-forward to the present day and, just like clockwork, this '90s staple has reappeared on the catwalks and in stores around the world. The modern take on the square-toe shoe is minimal sandals, as spotted on the runway at Saint Laurent, or as flat, angular mules seen from Balenciaga's spring collection.
One quick scour of Google will bring up many articles in high-fashion magazines calling for the death of square-toe shoes in years gone by. But while many still fail to accept these blunt, awkward shoes as in vogue, it looks as though, for 2019 at least, they are here to stay.