Press Release

Stepping Out: Shoes in World Cultures

CONTACT: Charles Schuler
Director of Communications
San Francisco International Airport


Stepping Out: Shoes in World Cultures
New exhibition features nineteenth and twentieth century shoes from around the world

SAN FRANCISCO - March 28, 2017 - Throughout world cultures, an incredible diversity exists among footwear.  In the most utilitarian sense, shoes and sandals simply protect feet; hence, practical concerns have long driven shoe design. Indian padukas, or toe-knob sandals, elevate feet above the sun-scorched ground while offering protection from debris.  Other shoes were fabricated for specific purposes; for instance, during the 1870s, athletic footwear began to be offered for sports and leisure activities, such as tennis.  The invention of vulcanized rubber in the nineteenth century made these new, rubber-soled sneakers possible.

For centuries, elevated shoes with platforms, stilts, or heels served to keep one’s feet and clothing protected from unfavorable conditions.  At the same time, elevated heel heights associated the wearer with wealth and prestige.  Japanese geisha wore finely made, lacquered wood, high-platform geta, which required slow, short steps.  Decorative ornamentation appears on even the most pragmatic footwear.  Elaborate embroidery, appliqué, and beading are some of the many techniques employed. Each of these embellishments accents a variety of Native American moccasins.  As with shoe height, such adornment might signify a person’s prominent position in society.

Decorative elements also serve symbolic purposes.  Tigers, the most quintessential motif embroidered on young, Chinese boys’ shoes, are meant to frighten evil spirits and help children grow to be strong and fearless.  Some decorative shoes are intended for festive occasions, such as weddings, when historically many Dutch and French villagers wore their most colorful, painted wooden clogs.

Western wedding shoes, early basketball sneakers, beaded moccasins, European clogs, Chinese children’s shoes, and Japanese geta are a few of the many shoes featured in this exhibition.

The online version of the exhibition is viewable at:

Stepping Out: Shoes in World Cultures is located pre-security in the International Terminal Main Hall Departures Lobby, San Francisco International Airport. This exhibition is on view to all airport visitors from April 1, 2017, to November 12, 2017.


SFO Museum

SFO Museum was established by the Airport Commission in 1980 for the purposes of humanizing the Airport environment, providing visibility for the unique cultural life of San Francisco, and providing educational services for the traveling public.  The Museum was granted initial accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in 1999, reaccredited in 2005, and has the distinction of being the only accredited museum in an airport.  Today, SFO Museum features approximately twenty galleries throughout the Airport terminals displaying a rotating schedule of art, history, science, and cultural exhibitions, as well as the San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library and Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum, a permanent collection dedicated to the history of commercial aviation.  To browse current and past exhibitions, research our collection, or for more information, please visit  Follow us on,, or

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