The History of Dutch Clogs

You can’t go to Holland and not see any clogs. The Dutch may not wear them regularly, but traditional wooden clogs can nevertheless be seen during cultural celebrations, as decorations and yes, in many souvenir shops. In fact, clogs are such a big part of Holland’s cultural identity that every June, the American Baseball Foundation of The Hague sponsors an American-style baseball game where both teams play in clogs.

The first guild of clog makers dates all the way back to around 1570 in what is today the Netherlands. However, the Dutch have been wearing wooden shoes since long before that, throughout the Roman era and the Middle Ages, when the much of the region was frequently covered in mud and soft terrain. Using wood instead of a soft material for footwear made it a lot easier to get around. These unique-looking wooden shoes are what are also known as clogs, or to the Dutch, "Klompen".

Dutch clogs come in a variety of colors and styles. In addition to being made out of different kinds of wood, they can be plain, painted or with carved shapes and designs. Painting clogs is an old custom in the Netherlands, and the first artist to paint wooden shoes is said to have been Pieter Brueghel the Elder in 1550. Traditionally, carved clogs are the choice for grooms to give their new brides. Yellow is the most common color used to paint clogs (usually with one or more colors added in a simple design), but these days wooden clogs can be found in virtually any color imaginable, and their designs range from very intricate and detailed to very simple. Style-wise, the toes are either rounded out or pointed slightly up.

Originally however, the entire shoe was not made of wood. Instead, the earliest Dutch clogs were designed with a wooden sole complete with a leather top or strap tacked on to the wood. Eventually though, shoemakers began to make them entirely out of wood in order to protect the entire foot (though a tough material, many things could easily poke and cut through leather). Alder, willow and poplar woods were used to make these clogs. People in the Netherlands wore wooden clogs regularly up until around the 19th century, when road technology became more advanced (less mud involved) and foreign fashions became influential.

But some Dutch people still do wear wooden clogs for a variety of purposes. For example, farmers, industrial workers, fishermen and people working in the gardening industrial are known to wear them for everyday use. Wooden clogs are ideal for wet environments because they absorb sweat and keeping them dry. They are the type of shoes that keep feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Additionally, the traditional all-wooden Dutch clogs have been officially accredited as safety shoes by European authorities, and they can withstand almost many kinds of penetration from sharp objects and even certain kinds of acids. These shoes are actually in many ways safer than typical steel capped protective shoes, as the wood will crack instead of dent if they are trapped or crushed, allowing for much easier removal of the foot from the clog instead of having continued pressure from metal tips. If you venture outside of Holland’s tourism areas, you can even find clogs for sale in local garden centers and tool stores.

But within tourism areas, you’ll most likely see clogs worn for traditional Dutch dances. The clogs used for dancing are a little lighter than industrial clogs, and the upper part of them is cut a little lower on the ankle. Dancing with these shoes is also known as “Klompendanskunst” or in English, Dutch clogging or simply “clogging”. There’s no mistaking Dutch clogging— the dancers tap their toes and heels on the floor to make a rhythmic noise while moving. In fact, these dancing clogs were one of the precursors to American tap shoes. The famous Shirley Temple even danced in them in the 1937 movie, “Heidi”. Much later, in 2006, nearly 500 teenagers attempted to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest number of clog dancers by dancing in a group in The Hague. However, the teens danced the ballet version of the Dutch clog dance rather than the folk version— the ballet version has spread to other countries in more recent years and is often taught alongside tap dancing.

Today, people around the world own wooden clogs, even if they don’t wear them all the time. Many actually get them on the suggestion of orthopedic professionals, as wooden clogs are supposed to help with posture and generally foot health. Other people simply prefer to wear them when they are gardening or just for fun.