The Barefoot Revolution: From Kanye West to Ancient Rome

Introduction: Embracing Barefoot Chic

In the scorching heat of a Roman summer, the artist formerly known as Kanye West strolls barefoot, rebellious and perhaps envisioning the beach beneath the eternal cobblestones with his new wife, the architect Bianca Censori. Despite her Italian-sounding name, Bianca hails from Australia. The couple indulges in gelato in Florence, their bare feet merging with the 35-degree streets and the 79% humidity courtesy of the Arno River. Returning to Rome just two weeks ago, Kanye graced the stage at the Circus Maximus, head covered, feet bare, unabashedly defiant. Meanwhile, Bianca faces a potential fine of up to €10,000 for the ‘indecent’ nature of her attire. Are feet becoming the new breasts, shunned and frowned upon?

The Disdain for Feet: A Cultural Phenomenon

Feet, with their calluses, bunions, corns, ingrown nails, blisters, fungal infections, and rough patches, are not a sight for sore eyes. It’s understandable why many recoil at the thought of beholding them, let alone smelling them, unless there’s a fetish involved. According to the Illustrious Official College of Podiatrists of the Valencian Community (ICOPCV), seven out of ten Spaniards struggle to walk gracefully, a statistic that has become canonical. Even Queen Letizia suffers from metatarsalgia, a painful inflammation of the interdigital nerve, typically between the third and fourth toes. There’s an anecdote about Mariano Rajoy catching her with her heels in hand, fed up.

As someone with high arches, I can attest to the challenges. A foot with more arch than a Roman bridge led to my Achilles tendon rupture during the 2012 London Olympics. I also have more separation than necessary between my big and index toes, a result of my insistence on wearing flip-flops Brazilian surfer style. Now, I detest flip-flops. Poor footwear choices have consequences. It’s better to go barefoot and turn a blind eye.

The Liberation of Feet: A Summer Prerogative

Liberating feet from the shoe tyranny that dominates most of the year is a summer prerogative. Peeking out from the edge of a lounge chair, treading the line between greatness and the sea, the recurring postcard sent from the edge of social media networks announcing the start of vacations (“Here, suffering,” some still quip) reads like a cross-sectional declaration of principles, inter-class, inter-gender. One of those few gestures, between defiant and pleasurable, that equalizes us. In Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” it serves as a metaphor for recklessness, irresponsible and Dionysian behavior. Changing the original snow in the New York playwright and screenwriter’s work (as in the famous 1967 film adaptation with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford) to hot sand or lava asphalt won’t alter its essence. But what does judgment matter when the experience is so comforting? And powerful. Yes, going barefoot is empowering. Kanye’s act could be seen as a display of power: Adidas may have pocketed nearly €500 million last May after clearing out the remaining stock of Yeezy sneakers following the lucrative collaboration deal with the rapper earlier in the year (a fallout from his racist and antisemitic outbursts), but he, the man who revolutionized the athletic footwear market, doesn’t even need to wear shoes. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a strategy, and the next time we see him, he’ll be wearing a new design of his own,” conceded his former press officer, Jason Lee, regarding the controversial artist’s bare feet, who, by the way, is known to have visited a factory in Prato, in the Tuscan textile belt, during his Italian escapade.

Not long ago, in Los Angeles, he was spotted wearing Sandal Socks, neoprene socks that give the sensation of bare feet, used by beach athletes and some runners. “The guy who lost $1.5 billion” (the cost of breaking ties with Adidas), tabloids pointed out then. Because, in the end, it all comes down to money. Out of season, going barefoot, or ‘barefoot chic’ as it’s called, is considered eccentric. Or indicative of pagan leanings. At best, it’s associated with hippies. At worst, with the poor, according to aporophobic conventions. One might be surprised to learn that for many, it’s a way of life. And not so novel at that. The issue has been brewing since 2009 when journalist Christopher McDougall (a former war correspondent for the Associated Press) published the bestseller “Born to Run,” sparking the barefoot running craze. “We’re convinced that life is better—and people too—when you go barefoot,” asserts Roald Hoope, founder of the Dutch firm Panta Sandals, dedicated to minimalist footwear innovation, with just a few millimeters of rubbery distance between foot and ground. “It’s part of our Greco-Roman heritage. Like the hemerodromoi, the messenger-runners who maintained communication between city-states,” he says, adding an epic touch to a narrative that spans from Pheidippides to modern heroes like Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian ebony arrow who clinched the Olympic gold running barefoot in the 1960 marathon in Rome (it had to be Rome), South African runner Zola Budd, or Galician triathlete Iván Raña. “Walking barefoot has been labeled as exclusive to the poor or ignorant. In contrast, wearing shoes is synonymous with civilization and progress. But that’s not true, it’s a vestige of false modesty towards the naked body,” argues Mexican poet and academic Abel Pérez Rojas, a barefoot advocate for four decades.

In June, the cosmetic division of a French luxury fashion firm hosted a party at a Marbella resort to commercially kick off summer. The only dress code requirement for guests (Adriana Ugarte, Manuela Velasco, Iván Sánchez, Fernando Andina…) was “barefoot chic.”

The History of Barefoot Chic: From Antiquity to Modernity

The concept of going barefoot is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it has deep historical roots that extend back to antiquity. Throughout various civilizations and time periods, the act of going barefoot has held different cultural, social, and even religious significance.

Ancient Civilizations: Barefoot as a Symbol of Status and Spirituality

In ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome, footwear—or the lack thereof—played a significant role in social hierarchies and religious practices.

In Egypt, going barefoot was often associated with the lower classes, who couldn’t afford footwear, while the elite wore sandals made of leather or papyrus. However, there were exceptions to this rule, as seen in depictions of pharaohs and gods depicted barefoot in certain religious contexts, symbolizing purity and connection to the earth.

Similarly, in ancient Greece, footwear was a symbol of social status and citizenship. Citizens typically wore sandals or shoes, while slaves and foreigners often went barefoot. However, during religious ceremonies and athletic competitions such as the Olympic Games, athletes competed bare

foot as a sign of respect to the gods and to feel more connected to the earth.

In ancient Rome, footwear was an essential part of daily attire for both men and women. Sandals were the most common type of footwear, ranging from simple designs worn by the lower classes to elaborate and embellished styles worn by the wealthy elite. Going barefoot was generally frowned upon and associated with poverty or uncouth behavior. However, there were exceptions, such as during religious ceremonies or in certain recreational activities where going barefoot was more acceptable.

Medieval Europe: Barefoot as a Sign of Humility and Penitence

During the medieval period in Europe, the symbolism of going barefoot evolved to encompass themes of humility, penitence, and spirituality.

In Christian religious traditions, going barefoot was often associated with acts of penance and humility, as exemplified by the practice of barefoot pilgrimages to holy sites such as Santiago de Compostela in Spain or Jerusalem in the Holy Land. By walking barefoot, pilgrims demonstrated their willingness to endure physical discomfort and hardship as a form of spiritual devotion.

In addition to religious symbolism, going barefoot also had practical implications during the medieval period. Many people, especially those living in rural areas or working in agriculture, went barefoot due to the lack of affordable footwear or the unsuitability of shoes for certain tasks. However, going barefoot was not without its risks, as it exposed individuals to injury, infection, and other health hazards.

Despite these challenges, the practice of going barefoot persisted throughout the medieval period and into the early modern era, shaping cultural attitudes towards footwear and the human body.

The Renaissance and Enlightenment: Barefoot as a Symbol of Naturalism and Freedom

The Renaissance period saw a resurgence of interest in classical ideals and a renewed appreciation for the human body and its connection to nature. This newfound emphasis on naturalism and freedom influenced cultural attitudes towards footwear and the practice of going barefoot.

In art and literature, depictions of barefoot figures became increasingly common, symbolizing themes of innocence, purity, and freedom from societal constraints. Artists such as Sandro Botticelli and Michelangelo portrayed biblical and mythological figures barefoot as a way of emphasizing their closeness to nature and divine grace.

Similarly, writers and philosophers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods celebrated the virtues of simplicity, authenticity, and self-expression embodied by going barefoot. Figures such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Henry David Thoreau extolled the benefits of a minimalist lifestyle and advocated for a return to nature as a means of achieving spiritual enlightenment and personal fulfillment.

In the realm of fashion, the barefoot aesthetic also found expression in the clothing and footwear styles of the period. For example, the popularity of sandals and espadrilles among European aristocrats and intellectuals reflected a desire to emulate the relaxed, naturalistic lifestyle associated with Mediterranean cultures.

The Industrial Revolution and Modernity: Barefoot as a Symbol of Rebellion and Individualism

The Industrial Revolution brought about significant changes in society, including the mass production of footwear and the proliferation of consumer culture. As shoes became more affordable and accessible, the practice of going barefoot declined among the general population, becoming increasingly associated with poverty, marginalization, and social stigma.

However, alongside these trends, there emerged a countercultural movement that sought to challenge conventional norms and embrace alternative lifestyles, including the practice of going barefoot. Influenced by movements such as Romanticism, Transcendentalism, and the Hippie movement of the 1960s, individuals began to reject the materialism and conformity of mainstream society in favor of a more authentic and liberated way of life.

For many, going barefoot represented a form of rebellion against societal expectations and a rejection of the commodification of the body. By freeing themselves from the constraints of footwear, they sought to reconnect with their natural environment and assert their autonomy and individuality.

In recent decades, the practice of going barefoot has experienced a resurgence of interest among various subcultures and communities, reflecting a growing awareness of the health benefits and symbolic significance of barefoot living. From barefoot running and minimalist footwear to barefoot hiking and beachcombing, individuals around the world are rediscovering the joys of walking and living barefoot.

Conclusion: The Barefoot Renaissance

In conclusion, the practice of going barefoot is a timeless and universal phenomenon that transcends cultural boundaries and historical epochs. From ancient civilizations to modern societies, the act of walking barefoot has held diverse symbolic meanings and practical implications, shaping attitudes towards footwear, the body, and the natural world.

Whether as a symbol of status and spirituality in ancient Egypt and Greece, a sign of humility and penitence in medieval Europe, a expression of naturalism and freedom in the Renaissance and Enlightenment, or a symbol of rebellion and individualism in the modern era, going barefoot has served as a powerful form of self-expression and a means of connecting with the deeper rhythms of life.

As we navigate the complexities of the modern world, the practice of going barefoot offers us an opportunity to rediscover our innate connection to the earth and to reclaim a sense of authenticity and freedom in our lives. Whether we walk barefoot on sandy beaches, grassy meadows, or city streets, let us embrace the barefoot renaissance and celebrate the simple joys of feeling the earth beneath our feet.


  • McDougall, C. (2009). Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. Knopf.
  • Rousseau, J. J. (1762). The Social Contract. Penguin Classics.
  • Thoreau, H. D. (1854). Walden. Ticknor and Fields.
  • Simon, N. (1963). Barefoot in the Park. Random House.
  • Pérez Rojas, A. (2019). Desnudos de humanidad: El movimiento descalcista como expresión de un nuevo humanismo. Ediciones Urano.
The Barefoot Revolution: From Kanye West to Ancient Rome
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