Situated in Toronto, Ontario, the Bata Shoe Museum is one of the most unique attractions in this bustling Canadian metropolis. Visitors are invited to explore both ancient and modern global cultures through their footwear. The BSM encourages visitors to discover the ways in which footwear reflects different cultures’ environmental limitations, technological innovations, and ideas surrounding gender and beauty. The BSM holds over 13,000 artifacts representing a total of 4,500 years of history.
The BSM was founded by Sonja Bata in 1995. Throughout her life, Mrs. Bata had both worked in the shoe industry and collected shoes for her own private collection, which she started in the 1940s. Mrs. Bata founded the museum out of the desire to share her passion with the world. The museum’s opening was preceded by the establishment of the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation in 1979. This organization funds research and academic publications on the topic of footwear as it relates to cultures around the world.
All About Shoes: Footwear through the Ages
A great starting place for first-time BSM visitors, the All About Shoes exhibit provides a great overview of the evolution of footwear. Here, visitors learn about the manufacturing techniques involved in the production of shoes. In addition, the significance of footwear as it relates to class, status, and gender is also discussed.
An exciting new area within this exhibit, titled Fashion Afoot, focuses exclusively on the development of footwear in the 20th century. By showing how footwear changed in each decade of the 20th century, visitors can pose larger questions concerning the role of the designer, the relationship between form and function, and the role of art in our everyday lives. Further, visitors can forge a connection between the way social and political change drive fashion.
Those more interested in the function of shoes may be interested in the What’s Their Line area of the exhibit. In this corner of the gallery, visitors can get an inside look at shoes worn for particular occupations. Highlights from the exhibit include shoes worn by sumo wrestlers as well as clogs meant exclusively for crushing chestnuts.
Art and Innovation
One of the qualities contributing to the spread of civilization to every continent in the world is the human spirit of innovation. Nowhere is this more evident or impressive than in the seemingly inhospitable environment of the Arctic. The 14 million square kilometers that comprise this enigmatic region are home to eight countries which contain 40 distinct cultures. Through BSM-sponsored research field trips, the institution has acquired an impressive array of footwear from a number of the cultures that have survived and thrived in the region for millennia. The displayed artifacts allow visitors to understand the craftsmanship, innovation, and creativity that allowed these cultures to both overcome the environmental challenges and embrace the opportunities of this unique landscape. As with the All About Shoes exhibit, visitors are invited to explore the ways form and function interact as they view the symbolic and spiritual aspects of the Arctic footwear on display.
On display until the spring of 2018, the BSM’s Fashion Victims exhibit allows visitors to appreciate the hazardous nature of 19th century European apparel. Few people are aware of the deadly fashion trends that permeated the otherwise polished world of Victorian Europe. In this exhibit, guests can become better acquainted with these now seemingly over-the-top fads such as extremely flammable skirts, remarkably stiff collars, and constricting corsets. In investigating the cultural undercurrents that lead to these catastrophic fashion gaffes, visitors are invited to question the degree to which these unhealthy approaches to fashion are still alive and well in today’s consumer imaginations.
Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels
No shoe museum would be complete without a discussion about heels. Offering little by way of functionality, heels have long been considered a purely aesthetic element in the design of footwear. While they are currently largely associated with femininity, heels have long had a place in men’s fashion. For this reason, the BSM has put together an exhibit that chronicles the way in which men have incorporated heels into their personal style repertoires from as early is the 17th century all the way up to the present day. John Lennon’s original Beatle boot and Elton John’s platforms are just two of the exciting artifacts in this collection.
327 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S 1W7, Phone: 416-979-7799