As many as one in three Americans suffer from bunions, those painful bumps that form on the outside of the big toe. Wearing high heels or ill-fitting shoes that cramp the toes can make the pain even worse, since constrained spaces increase pressure on the big toe joint. That doesn’t deter people from wearing them, however. It’s a well-established maxim that sometimes one must suffer in order to be fashionable.
According to a recent study published in the International Journal of Paleopathology, people in the European Middle Ages also endured pain in the name of fashion—in this case, with shoes with exaggerated pointed toes. University of Cambridge archaeologists studied skeletal remains excavated from Cambridge and found evidence that bunions were far more prevalent in remains from the 14th and 15th centuries than in those from earlier centuries, when more pragmatic footwear was popular. This may have increased the risk of suffering fractures from falls.
“We were quite fortunate that we happened to be studying a time period where there was a clear change in shoe fashion somewhere in the middle of our sample,” co-author Piers Mitchell told The Guardian. “People really did wear ridiculously long, pointy shoes, just like they did in [the] Blackadder [TV series].” (You can see series star Rowan Atkinson sporting such shoes below and in this clip from the season 1 episode “Born to Be King.”)