Hobnails added to the durability of the sole and also provided grip when walking on muddy ground: they were therefore useful for private soldiers and working people, but rarely appeared on elite footwear. Hobnails had the disadvantages of being noisy and unyielding on hard ground, and were notorious for causing leaks when the nails fell out. Although sumptuary laws that restricted certain clothes to certain classes had been repealed in 1604, the exigencies of economics and culture were almost as effective at prescribing footwear styles. In the eighteenth century, these phrases were not yet proverbial: they could be used to comment on someone’s shoes, but the social comment was only implied.
As Karen Harvey has noted, apparel such as leather breeches emphasized the shapeliness of the leg and the prominence of the genitals, so was highly sexualized
In the nineteenth century, however, these phrases took on their modern meaning as describing the person themselves, implying a close identification between clothing and its wearer. All of this has wider implications for the nature of social identity. Dror Wahrman argues that the ‘modern self ‘ emerged over the course of the eighteenth century and that, by the nineteenth, individuals were strictly classified in terms of gender, race and class. He also argues that clothes became detached from this process, as one would see through them to perceive the real self. Perhaps more than any other item of clothing, shoes are synonymous with their wearer: they are identified with the body rather than merely being an adjunct to it. It is therefore worth concluding by focusing on elite men’s footwear and their implications for politics.
We have noted how, over the course of the century, men’s shoes became plainer and lower-heeled. The shoe remained an important part of the elite male ensemble, however. As McNeil and Riello note: The male shoe also acted as a type of emphatic punctuation stop at the end of silk-stockinged legs, which marked out his gender distinction from young boys and women, and his class distinction from working men wearing leather or cloth protective leggings, ragged shoes, and clogs.