[MR] Some Thoughts on SCA Footwear

Garth Groff and Sally Sanford mallardlodge1000 at gmail.com
Sat Jan 20 03:53:38 PST 2024

Noble friends,

Since today is a slow news day (history-wise), instead I will . . . er . .
. bare my "sole" recalling my sometimes painful experiences with
reenactment shoes. During the 17 or so years I have been in the SCA I have
had several footwear fiascoes. My sad shoe tales may help those who are new
to our “world”, or to those advising newcomers. And to seasoned members who
have endured their own painful shoe misadventures, you are not alone.

Nobody . . . uh . . . stepped forward to advise Lady Sarah or myself about
shoes when we first began to gather garb back in 2007. Maybe we just didn’t
know what questions to ask, or whom we should have asked.

My first so-called period boots were purchased from one of those large
online renfaire vendors. Their fit was terrible, and weren’t even real
leather. They quickly went into the Shire of Isenfir’s “gold key” loaner
collection. Lesson: clothes and accessories from online renfaire vendors
are often inaccurate, overpriced and shoddy. Make your own garb, or stick
with SCA-oriented vendors who put quality and authenticity first. [Names
and web addresses of my two favorites are available by request via separate

Our next shoes were some inexpensive faux-suede ladies’ boots (without side
zippers) from K-mart. These were o.k. for Lady Sarah, and I think she might
still have some in the shadowy corners of our garb closet. The largest I
could find were women’s size 10.5 (EU sizes 40-41). I take a men’s size
10.5 or 11 (EU sizes 42-43), so these were a very tight fit and had
seriously narrow toe boxes. They were barely tolerable for an afternoon
demo, but I got into real trouble when I wore a pair over the three days
spent at our first Pennsic (#37). By the third day of trekking around my
toes were a bruised mess. I eventually lost the nails from both my big toes
and they have never completely recovered. The fake-o leather was also
permeable, and after trudging around in dewey grass, my feet were soaked.
Lesson: cheap substitutes can ruin your feet, so don’t skimp on shoes.

On the first day at Pennsic I went to a well-known reenactment shoe vendor
(who will remain nameless) and bought a very expensive pair of two-button,
side-lacing low-quarter boots. The salesman promised he would pound them
for me to soften the leather, and I was able to pick them up the next day.
My K-mart specials went right into the trash can. The new boots still hurt
my already mangled feet. Lesson: Break in new footwear slowly; Pennsic is
NOT a good place to wear brand-new boots or shoes.

I wore these boots for several years, but I hated lacing them. I am mildly
dyslexic, and could never quite remember how to loop the laces around the
buttons so they would hold. I usually got the right boot tight after a
couple of tries, but had major problems doing the lacing backwards for the
left. Finally in desperation, I bought another pair of low-quarter boots
from the same vendor (online), this time with a buckle closure. My fuddled
brain can handle buckles pretty well. I can’t remember if these were sold
as Saxon boots or Viking boots. The vendor had both in their line, and the
boots were otherwise identical except one buckled and the other laced (both
styles are still available, but the manufacturer has changed their
nomenclature to just "buckle boot" and "laced boot").

After several years, I found that these shoes were not much better than the
K-mart horrors. Both shipped water, probably at the seams between the toes
and the soles. They didn’t fit my feet well, so I added inserts. The
inserts pushed my toes up into the top of the toe box, and could be quite
painful by the end of a day’s activities. By now I had also lost the nails
on both of my second toes, and when they grew back they were all wonky and
brittle. I now wore the thickest wool socks I could find, but they didn’t
help much, and actually made the shoes even tighter. Lesson: Despite a high
price and promise of quality, reenactment shoes are not necessarily
well-engineered or even good for your feet.

About five years ago, I finally retired the steel-toe “boondocker” work
boots I was given by President Ford in 1975 (through his designated
representative, the supply officer at Coast Guard Training Center Alameda).
Surprisingly for sea service issue, these boots also shipped water badly
through the toes, and weren’t exactly dry at the heel either. I believe the
last time I wore them was at Pennsic #41 and #42, both times arriving early
to help set up the archery range. Again I was tramping around in wet grass,
and my feet were soon soaked. Changing to my period boots and dry socks
later in the morning didn’t help much. Foot-wise I was pretty miserable at
both events.

Later back at home, I stopped by a local Red Wing store and bought a new
pair of steel-toe (and thankfully dry) work boots. This time I wore my
thickest wool socks to the fitting, chose a size even larger than the
measurement with the socks on, and specified the widest toe box possible.
At last comfort! Of course, these are not period-style shoes, and I have
only worn them at SCA events while doing set-up chores.

While I was browsing Red Wing’s offerings, I spotted their low-top “chucka
boots”. Except for modern soles, they looked much like the lace-up
Viking/Saxon boots from the reenactment shoe company. I went back to the
store with a print-out from the reenactment vendor's web page to compare.
After my bank account recovered from the work boots, I bought a pair of
brown “chuckas”, again wearing my thickest socks and choosing a size that
was roomy. The laces were modern woven cord, but at my request the Red Wing
salesman added their best quality leather laces (he even had them dyed to
match the boots at no extra charge). I had finally found the shoes that I,
and my now-battered feet, had longed for over the past ten or so years.

Later I returned to Red Wing and bought another pair of "chuckas", this
time in black. Always "fashion conscious", I try to color-match my
accessories. 🫤 Choosing between black or brown depends on whether I am
packing a sword, and what color the weapon’s scabbard/baldric is. I have
both black and brown belts, sporrans, dagger sheaths, tankard straps, and
side pouches (for my small camera). So I just HAD to buy another pair of
shoes to match both options.

By the way, my wool socks are not visible. Like a good Scot, I wear
leggings called "mogens", which extend down to my boots and do an excellent
job hiding my hosiery. The mogans also give me a place for a small dagger,
the *skein-dubh* that all Scots are expected to wear (admittedly an 18th
century accessory).

Another interesting possibility comes to mind. Birkenstock’s classic
strapped clog style is called “Boston”. Its wide, rounded toes vaguely
resemble some period shoes, and might be an acceptable compromise for SCA
wear. Birkenstock also makes a similar shoe called “London” which features
a full heel-back as well as the strap. I have owned several pairs of both
styles and find them very comfortable, though I have yet to wear my Birks
to a garbed SCA event.

In summary, while some SCA purists may cringe in horror, period shoe style
is less important than comfort and foot health. Although I don’t recommend
canvas gym shoes, there are modern shoes that fit well, can protect your
feet, and still look at least presentable for SCA use. Remember, we're
supposed to make a *reasonable* attempt at pre-17th century garb and
accessories. Lesson: The term "reasonable" does allow for some compromise
when comfort and health are involved.

Your feet can’t talk, but they will thank you.

Yours Aye,

Mungo Napier, Laird of Mallard Lodge  🦆

Continuing a crusade to keep Merry Rose relevant and in business.

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