Feeling relaxed after a hard day is one of life’s simple pleasures. Whether it’s luxuriating in a warm bath, nestling into a freshly made bed, or sliding your feet into some beautifully crafted lounge slippers. But where do slippers come from? Did they simply evolve as our lives became more contemporary or have they always been there to relax and help rejuvenate after a busy day? So in our useful article, we will cover all the background and origin of your favorite comfortable footwear!
Slippers as we know them in our modern world may have been invented by Florence Melton or Alvin Slipper. Early Cantabrian cave paintings show the earliest slippers. Vietnamese slippers date back to the 12th century. The Middle East, Persia, Arabia, and Italy also developed soft slippers.
With the short answer in mind, let’s start with a little bit of background on the role of the slipper and where it all first started for the comfortable indoor shoe we are familiar with.
Who invented the first slipper?
Although we have a good idea where slippers, as we know them in our contemporary lives, began, there is a little uncertainty as to who can claim the discovery. Some information declares that they were invented during World War II during the 1940s. Florence Melton was at the time working on materials suitable to improve helmets worn by servicemen. While working on the project, she discovered that foam due to its durability, softness, and ease of washing was the perfect material for not only comfort for the heads of soldiers, but also their feet! Her discovery led to the invention of the first foam soled and washable slipper, under a popular brand that is still available today.
Other anecdotal evidence suggests that Alvin Slipper came up with the idea of slippers, lounge and indoor shoes simply because he was tired of having cold feet! Although we love that explanation, it’s possible it may just be an urban myth. So now we’ve found a few individuals who might be responsible for the modern house shoe, let’s take a dive back in history to find out more about the origin of slippers.
Read on to find out more!
Origins of the slipper
Although the word ‘slipper’ was first recorded in English in 1478, it seems as if the slipper has been around for much longer! If we take a step back to Spain around 150,000 years ago we may have stumbled upon the first type of slipper seen by man!
Cantabrian cave art
The Discovery of Spanish cave art in the Eastern Cantabrian region north of the Iberian Peninsula shows humans dressed in animal skins with animal fur strapped to their feet. It’s nice to think that although the real reason for this would be to protect their feet outdoors, they would also make for a warm cosy cave slipper too!
At Boscombe Down, archaeological digs have excavated a wealth of interesting and important Roman finds and artefacts. During one particular excavation in 2008, one particular discovery made the news headlines. A body exhumed discovers a woman curled up with a young child wearing slippers. This historical discovery suggests that slippers have their origins as far back as 200AD. This interesting uncovering shows the bodies found were of high status as the main bulk of the other 300 bodies were dressed for their journey into the next life wearing traditional boots.
12th Century Vietnam
So whether we think modern slippers may have been the discoveries of Slipper, Melton, or from as far back as the cave dwellers, one of the first recordings of a slippers dates back to 12th century Vietnam. Although in our modern age we see slippers as a motif for relaxing and moments of calm, to the female servants of rich sultans they were simply a symbol of slavery and captivity. The soft soles of silk slippers worn by the domestic attendants were made purposefully soft. This was so they couldn’t safely negotiate the Ricky terrains in the world outside.
Many centuries later, this rather sinister reason for indoor shoes of slippers was developed further in the Middle East. The original babouche was an ultra-soft slipper and inspired by the style of an open-back sandal. The word babouche comes from the Persian ‘Papuch’ or possibly the Arabic ‘Babush. The main feature of a babouche is the exaggerated point at the front of the slipper.
The particular softness of the babouche stems from the process by which it is made. It’s cleaned and dried repeatedly until it meets the ultimate level of softness. As a babouche was such a beautifully soft slipper, it was said to reflect the opulence of its wearers. These were mainly kings or 17th-century French courtiers. These monarchs and nobles led luxurious lifestyles who were tended to footmen and gophers who made sure the sumptuously soft indoor shoes remained in perfect condition.
Babouche in modern times
Artisan babouche slippers are still made nowadays in markets across Marrakech, Morocco, and remain a cultural icon. The babouche retains its place amongst the world's most soft and beautiful handcrafted slippers as they were named 2016’s ‘must-have’ shoe.
While the middle east was busy designing and creating their ultra-soft indoor shoes, across the continents to Italy, slippers were being developed for another use. The comfort of a slipper combined with a rubber sole made from old bicycle tires made sure 16th century Gondoliers were comfortable, did not slip the wet interiors of their boats. They were also perfect for protecting the surfaces they stood on. This slipper became known as the Venetian Furlane.
The Furlanewas made from velvet curtains
The upper was made from velvet. This was usually in the form of old clothes or curtains. This chic touch preserves the refined quality of the Venetian culture. A practical and also attractive slipper that is still in use to this day. These useful but elegant slippers are still made by hand which gives authenticity and also keeps the handcrafted slippers legacy and rich history. In a nod to that ancient tradition here at Loungers, some of our beautifully crafted indoor shoes retain this heritage in our expertly handcrafted luxury Bordeaux Velvet slipper
The Prince Albert slipper
As we moved through the centuries and across the water to England, elegant velvet slippers continued to develop during Victorian times. The ‘Prince Albert Slipper’ was named after Queen Victoria’s husband who initiated this elegant lounge slipper made from the finest velvet. These exquisite indoor shoes were lined with silk with a soft leather sole and were worn by members of the aristocracy. Along with a dinner suit, ‘Prince Albert slippers’ were used by the elite to move elegantly between rooms in stately homes, before, during, and after dinner. They were also seen by the best dressed in smoking rooms and exclusive men’s clubs. So much so, they were also known as ‘smoking shoes’. Worn by Hollywood legends such as Douglas Fairbanks and Peter Lawford they became even more popular during the 1940s and 1950s.
Here at loungers we are proud to keep the craft of handmade slippers and lounge shoes relevant to this day. 3rd generation Italian shoemakers hand make our entire range of sumptuous luxury indoor shoes with painstaking detail, high-quality locally sourced fabrics, and exceptional artisanship. Our elegant range of best quality indoor shoes made of the finest leathers and velvet for a luxury feel with a modern eco-friendly ethos. Browse our full collection here.