Latin America

Two strains of influence can be seen in the design of footwear from Central and South America: that of the indigenous cultures, descended from groups such as the Maya and the Inca; and that of the Spanish and Portuguese, whose presence was established in the 16th century. Archaeological sites in Peru and other areas have yielded designs of shoes in styles similar to those still worn today.

A treasure of the Museum's collection is a pair of silver embellished ataderos (ankle boots) from the ancient Chimu culture of Northwestern Peru. This is the only known pair in existence which could possibly have been worn; the three other known examples are miniature. Chimu craftsmen excelled at metalwork and the use of precious metals such as silver was limited to goods for the upper classes. The silver medallions on this pair of boots feature hammered repoussé designs. The textile for the boots was woven in the shape of the boot rather than being cut from a larger piece of cloth and is a testament to the expertise of pre-Columbian Andean weavers. These boots would have been very labour-intensive to create and would have been intended for an elite burial.

Throughout Mexico, Central America, and the Andean countries the most common shoes are thick leather sandals with layered soles. Colourful clogs from Bolivia, often decorated with silver, show a European influence, as do ornately wrought silver women's riding stirrups from Peru. Cowboys, known as gauchos in Argentina wore an unusual style of riding boot made from the entire leg skin of a cow or horse, rendering the shaft of the boot completely seamless.

For conservation reasons, and in order to show more variety over time, only a selection of footwear from the permanent collection is displayed in our exhibitions at any one time. This means there's always something new to see.

image of Latin American footwear