Chinese Lotus Slippers Standing 62.99.163.jpg

Time Period: 10th century- 1900's

Category: Accessories, Shoes

Accession Number: 1962.99.163

Donor: Mary C. Whitlock


Lotus Slippers come from China. This pair was donated by Mary Whitlock. According to URI's HTCC donor records, they are a "Pair of shoes for bound feet of Chinese women. The binding process started when a girl was very young. Satin and Pekinese stitch; bat and butterfly design. Purchased at Tower Hill Antique Shop, Wakefield, R.I. September 1951, for $3.75." The slippers are about 6 1/2 inches (16.51 cm) high and about 4 1/2 inches (11.43 cm) wide, with a 1 1/4 inch (3.18 cm) heel height. Floral embroidery covers the sides and front of the slippers. There is a navy blue border around the top, which divides the slipper into two sections. The top section is a beige silk while the bottom section is an orange silk. There are also small, orange embroidered stars on the heel sole of the slipper.


Lotus slippers originated in China during the tenth century. They are made for women with bound feet. The exact origin is unknown; however, it is believed that one of Li Yu's, an emperor of China's, mistresses was a dancer who used to bind her feet and dance on top of a lotus flower.[1] Today, lotus slippers could be compared to pointe shoes or a pair of high heels. Originally, only members of the court bound their feet; however, the trend spread to women of all social classes.[2]

Silk and cotton were used to make the slippers. Each woman hand made and embroidered her own slippers and young girls were taught at an early age, how to make them. First, a flour paste was spread over a wooden board and cloth was placed on top. Paste was then spread over the cloth, then a second and third piece of cloth was placed on the board repeating the process. The cloth was then set out in the sun to dry and a paper pattern was cut out for the soles. The thickness of the soles of each slipper varied, so there would usually be two or three layers that were sewn together around the outside of the slipper. The outside of the shoe was made from cotton, used as a support, covered in silk. The silk was decorated in embroidery and then glued to the top layer of cotton. Some women also chose to stitch a quilted pattern around the sole of the slipper. The style of the shoe varied based on location and class. Peasants usually wore slightly more comfortable shoes and northern women's shoes were usually larger because they tended to be taller and heavier. Taller wedges were more common in the north.[3]

Girls began the foot-binding process around five years old. Girls usually bound their feet in the fall, so that the winter would help to numb the pain. Their feet were soaked in warm water and then placed inside a lamb’s stomach for two hours. The toenails were clipped very short and the feet were massaged. The four small toes were pressed under toward the sole of the foot leaving the big toe exposed. Next, the feet were wrapped in cotton bandages using a figure eight movement. Sometimes sharp objects were placed inside the bandages, so the skin would die faster. The bandages were changed every few days for about two years until the ideal shape and size was formed. The ideal length of a bound foot was three inches and the ideal shape was the bud of a lotus flower.[4] When the new Republic began ruling China, they banned this painful process in 1911, although the tradition did not officially die out until the 1930s.[5]

If a girl did not bind her feet, she would not find a good husband, and it was unlikely that she would marry. A woman with bound feet was viewed as elegant and delicate. Those who did not have bound feet were ugly and manly. Lotus slippers were often included in a girl’s dowry, and she was required to make at least four in preparation for her wedding.[6]

Red, blue, purple, light green, black and white for mourning, are the most common colors used on Lotus Slippers. Chinese culture believed in longevity and had many different symbols used to represent this. Lotuses, ladders, bats, swastikas, cats, butterflies, sun, deer, tortoises, and monkeys are common symbols found on these slippers. The four main flowers used were the plum blossom, peonies, lotus, and chrysanthemums, to represent the four seasons. The slippers were often worn with matching socks and leggings.[7]

Lotus Slippers and bound feet were a very fashionable, erotic, and sexual trend. Because women were physically restricted, this gave men more power. The idea of foot binding came from foot fetishes. Men worshiped tiny feet. The smaller the foot, the more attractive a woman would be to a man. A woman’s foot was always covered and wrapped, making their feet mysterious to a man. “The beauty of imagination is more enchanting than the excitement with your eyes or fondling with your hands.”[8] Prostitutes often went to extreme measures to have the smallest feet because they were judged based off of the size of their feet rather their facial beauty. Men often played games with prostitutes involving their lotus slippers before engaging in intercourse. It was common for men to drink out of a woman’s slippers. Homosexuals of both genders also found pleasure in bound feet. Some homosexual males bound their feet like women.[9]

Foot fetishes have been around for hundreds of years. It is the reason women wear heels even today. The idea of the foot is very sexually appealing and fascinating. The way a shoe creates a specific posture is part of the appeal. Lotus slippers require women to walk very gracefully in what some would describe as a shuffle. The way a woman is trained to walk because of the slippers caused bigger voluptuous thighs, which were also very appealing to men. The heel also was first used to create the appearance of a dancer. The obsession with feet and the size of them developed a very specific idea of beauty that required women to alter their bodies. Thousands of years later women continue to alter their bodies to meet society’s standards of beauty.[10]

Cinderella is based off of the idea of foot fetishes. The European version depicts Cinderella loosing her glass slipper and her ugly stepsisters have to try and fit their feet into the shoe. The Danish version shows the stepmother chopping her daughters’ toes off in order to be beautiful. The Russian version also cuts off part of the ugly stepsisters’ feet. The stepsisters are called ugly due to the size of their feet.[11] This shows how society has taught girls that "pain is beauty" at a very early age. Women have been altering their bodies to be beautiful and fit in with trends for centuries and lotus slippers are an early example of that.


Lauryn Devine, TMD 224H S15

Last updated:

April 27, 2015

Other Images:

Bottom of Lotus Slippers
Chinese Lotus Slippers 62.99.163 bottom .JPG
Side view of Lotus Slippers
Chinese Lotus Slippers 62.99.163.JPG
Chinese Lotus Slippers Front 62.99.163.JPG
  1. ^ Valery M. Garrett, Traditional Chinese Clothing (New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1987) pp. 21-24
  2. ^ Beverly Jackson, Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition (California: Ten Speed Press, 1997)
  3. ^ Jackson, Splendid Slipers
  4. ^ Dorothy Ko, Cinderella's Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding
  5. ^ IBID
  6. ^ A.C. Scott, Chinese Costume in Transition (Japan: General Printing Co., 1958) pp. 29-30
  7. ^ Garett, Traditional Chinese Clothing
  8. ^ Ko, Cinderella's Sisters pp. 88
  9. ^ David Kunzle, Fashion and Fetishism (New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1982) pp. 295-300
  10. ^ Shoes (Oxford: Berg, 2005) pp. 250-270
  11. ^ Kunzle, Fashion and Fetishism pp. 181-183