An Egyptian gold-leaf sandal from 30 BC, 21cm heels used by 19th century Japanese prostitutes and 3D printed shoes are about to go on show at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.
The exhibition, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, is set to open on Saturday and includes 250 pairs of shoes amassed from the museum's archives, other collections and private shoe aficionados.
Even before the official opening, the show has won some celebrity admirers.
Lady Gaga swept by during a private tour of the museum. She declared herself satisfied with her loan to the show: a pair of Alexander McQueen Angel Wing booties, the thick decorative, gold soles sit below low-rise black boots with diamanté criss-cross straps.
"Beautiful," said Gaga, as her posse of security guards blocked cameras and ushered her away.
Many of the shoes on show are impractical, highlighting the wearer's status.
A rich 19th century Manchu woman needed a maid to help her wear the central-heeled horse hoof shoes out of the house.
An Indian ruler's golden slippers are decorated with diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds.
Meanwhile, 18th century Londoners clanked down the road in overshoes made of a wooden base with an iron ring on the bottom to rise above the city’s streets muck and mud.
The status symbol remains.
There are plenty of expensive designer shoes: Mondrian-inspired colour blocks of yellow, red and purple by Manolo Blahnik, elegant crystals in slim silver strands snake across the foot in styles by Jimmy Choo and improbably high Vivienne Westwood shoes made famous by model Naomi Campbell's catwalk tumble.
Football to high fashion
Pleasure and Pain spans the centuries and styles - from the iconic desert boot which has sold 12 million pairs since the invention 60 years ago, to David Beckham’s football boots, to tiny shoes for Chinese women whose feet were bound into unimaginable shapes and sizes.
"For centuries we've been obsessed by shoes," says Helen Persson, the curator.
The main floor of the exhibition is dark and red velveted to evoke a boudoir.
"Some shoes are limo shoes," said Dr Emma Supple, a foot surgeon.
She says there’s no harm in wearing heels as long as it’s done in moderation. "There are rules for wearing high heeled shoes: don’t go too high, don’t go too far and don’t go too fast."
The first floor has a more clinical feel; there's an exhibit showing the intricate steps required to make a pair of shoes.
Wooden lasts which are moulded to fit the wearer hang on the wall like drooping fruit.
The lasts created for Princess Diana by H&M Rayner are there. Sketches from the designers favoured by Sex and The City show how the shoe comes to fruition with heels, adornments and straps.
The 200-step process may soon be outmoded. There's a pair of shiny royal blue and orange curvy shoes made by a 3D printer.
Ultra-modern architect Zaha Hadid has designed a shoe which looks almost like steel, cantilevered so there is no heel.
Source: Al Jazeera