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More than 200 pairs of shoes from across the globe are used to explore the agony and euphoria of extreme footwear.

The display spans an incredible 2000 year period, from Ancient Egyptian sandals decorated in pure gold leaf to futuristic shoes created using 3D printing. It is organised into three broad themes: transformation, charting shoes from myth and legend including interpretations of the Cinderella slipper; status, exploring how impractical designs have been worn to represent a privileged and leisurely lifestyle; and seduction, revealing the shoe as an expression of sexual empowerment and an object of fetishism.

Designs worn by Marilyn Monroe, Queen Victoria and Sarah Jessica Parker feature, as do foot-binding lotus shoes, 16th-century chopines and vertiginous silk mules designed to lift skirts above the muddy streets. Brought together in a boudoir-style setting, the exhibits highlight how the shoe is a powerful indicators of gender, status, identity, taste and sexual preference.

The Bowes Museum

Newgate, Barnard Castle, County Durham, DL12 8NP

01833 690606


Opening times

Mon – Sun, 10am – 5pm Closed 25, 26 Dec and 1 Jan

Free entry with National Art Pass

Free exhibitions with National Art Pass

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