Mule is a style of shoe that has no back or constraint around the foot's heel. Mules have a history going as back as Ancient Rome, even though they were not popularly worn until sixteenth century Europe. There, mules were bedroom slippers and not worn out in public. Throughout the centuries mules have changed in style and purpose. They are no longer just boudoir shoes and are now worn any day and any occasion. In addition to Western examples, mules come from additional cultures like Turkey and Egypt. Across cultures and time frames, mules appear in popular culture from famous paintings to iconic celebrity shoes.
Etymology and Original Purpose
Mule's etymology comes from Ancient Rome. In Ancient Rome, the phrase "Calcei Mullei/Mulleus" was used to describe the red shoes worn by Roman senators and later higher magistrates. In 16th century Europe and France, the Latin root word "mule" was used to refer to backless shoes and slippers, respectively.
Mules of the 16th century to the 19th century were bedroom or boudoir slippers worn inside and not out in public. Accordingly, mules were worn with dressing gowns and typically matched the loose outfits by having the same comfort. The early mules did not have any distinguishable features.
History of their Popularity
While mules have been worn since the 15th century to the present day, their popularity has not always been constant. They were typical indoor shoes for both men and women in the early 1700s. By the 1720s to the end of the century, mules were the most popular indoor slipper. Fashion plates that exist from the end of the 1790s describe women wearing mules but are not seen due to the long lengths of the contemporary petticoats. Therefore, they were popular by the end of the 1700s but not as visible. In the beginning of the 1800s mules went out of style. In the mid 1800s, they rose in popularity again. In the 1860s, prostitutes wore mules in the brothels while regular people avoided wearing them. In the twentieth century, mules were again in fashion as they embraced the trends. They were especially popular during the end of the 1990s in the high-fashion as elite designers put their own touch on the mule. The twenty-first century has accepted and rejected the mule trend. Most recently, Elle magazine called mules the shoe of 2017.
Mules have changed in style over time. In the fifteenth century mules from Venice were stilted and resembled chopines. Their toes were of all shapes: round, square and forked. The heel similarly was not constrained in height. Heels ranged from 1 5/8 inches to 2 ½ inches. Mules were embroidered across centuries from 1550 to 1700. For example, Florentine embroidery, which is a flame stitch of various lengths, was popular during the 18th century. Throughout the 1700s, mules were regularly heeled and worn by both men and women. During the middle to late 1720–1790 the shoe structure itself was relatively dull and boring not to distract from eye-catchy buckles. By 1850s, heeled mules were less frequent for men. From 1885 to 1910, the trend of large buckles and elaborate trims was replaced by less decorated low heeled leather and felt shoes.
In the twentieth century wartime mules of the 1940s were made of lino, oilcloth, felt, compounds of raffia, rattan, bark or synthetic hemp. 1950s mules were made from plastic and decorated with feathers. The marabou mule promoted the time periods "sex-kitten" ideals. The styles for mules in the 1960s and in the 1980s mirrored the shoe trends of their respective decades. For the 1960s, mules had angular shapes and pointy toes. In the 1980s, this meant that mules were colorful, opulent, and highly accessorized with jewels.
Mules for Men
Mules not only came in different styles and various decorations, but also can be categorized by distinct types. In the nineteenth century, two male slippers were very popular mules. In the late 1880s, a very popular version of the mule at the time in England was the Albert. In addition to the Albert, the Alfred was also a man's boudoir/ morning slipper. This name comes from Daniel Green and Company 1892's "Alfred Dolge's Felt Slippers and Shoes."
Mules in the East
Mules also appear in eastern cultures. This history is similarly rich originating from the 800s and still present today. In eighth century Egypt, mules are depicted on gravestones and seem to be made of red kid. Iranian mules from 1800–1889 were made of velvet, leather, silk, metal thread. They are shaped like a fish. A mule from Turkey in the Metropolitan Museum's collection is made of wood, leather, metal, and silk. Mules from India were made from cow, buffalo or goat hide, fur, silk, wool, or cotton fiber, velvets, brocade and reeds and grass. Similar to the European examples, mules in India were embroidered and embellished with tassels and appliqué. In South Asia, a jutti is a type of shoe that is similar to the mule because it does not have backs. Sometimes, mules resemble Turkish babouche because of the use of Near Eastern fabrics. For example, Pierre Yantorny's mules designed for Rita de Acosta Lydig are made of an identical to other Near Eastern footwear. She potentially wore these shoes with a harem dress, further illustrating Eastern culture.
Mules in Popular Culture
Mules have been associated with several celebrities. Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I famously wore an embroidered pair of mules in the 17th century. In Ḗdouard Manet's 1863 painting Olympia, the central woman wears mules in bed. Her shoes connect to a type of slipper (chausson), which was slang for "old prostitute". During the 1950s, iconic actresses like Marylin Monroe, Joan Fontaine, and Jayne Russel wore the marabou mules in their films and daily lives. For example, Marylin Monroe wore them in The Seven Year Itch. Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City frequently wore mules. In Marie Claire's list of the top 32 Carrie Bradshaw shoes, six pairs are mules. In 2017, many celebrities and models were sighted wearing versions of the mules. Gigi Hadid designed a mule for Stuart Weitzman's spring 2017 collection. Beyoncé's instagram post of her wearing Givenchy mules received 2,222,727 likes. Gucci's Princetown loafer is a version of a mule worn by both men and women. In 2015, a version of this shoe was lined with kangaroo fur, which stirred anti fur activists. These shoes were snapped on celebrities' social media platforms from Marc Jacobs to Leandra Medine of Man Repeller. The mule has taken up a strong spot in popular culture as seen in their presence in films, paintings, and the streets.
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