Clogs, or wooden shoes, are known as klompen in Dutch and have been used in the Netherlands since medieval times. Visit any Dutch tourist shop and you’ll see this national symbol on keychains, magnets, clothes — you name it. So what’s the big deal with clogs?
Various forms of clogs are used around the world, such as the “geta” in Japan and “albarcas” in Spain, but the pointed toe and hand-painted wooden shoes are recognised as typically Dutch clogs. The shoe is deeply ingrained in Dutch culture, and some people in rural areas still wear them today!
The history of Dutch clogs
Clogs date back to the early 13th century in the Netherlands. They were designed to protect the feet of factory workers, artisans, farmers, fishermen, and other trade jobs.
Clogs were originally not made entirely from wood but had only a wooden sole with leather strapped over the top. But these were not very protective, and soon the entire shoe was carved out from willow or poplar. Nails, hooks, and sharp objects cannot penetrate the wood, and muddy fields are easier to navigate in clogs than regular boots. The European Union has even declared it an official safety shoe — now that’s hardcore!
Different professions had slightly different shaped clogs. Those who dug out peat on farms would have a larger, squarer nose on the clog to stop them from sinking into the mud. Fishermen would have sharp, pointy clog noses to help sort out fishing wires. Worker’s clogs were plain and undecorated.
But clogs weren’t only about hard work. Wooden shoes were also made for wearing around the house, and the more lavishly decorated clogs were even worn to churches and weddings. At one point, it was custom for men to propose to their fiance with a pair of beautifully carved shoes!
If you imagine hoards of Dutch people click-clacking around in wooden shoes across the canals and cobbled streets of the Netherlands, I’m afraid I must burst your bubble. The only clogs you’ll see in Dutch cities these days are brightly painted tourist shop editions, which locals would never buy.
But if you’re lucky, you may spot the endangered species that is the traditional Dutch farmer, wooden clogs included. Some Dutch people also still like to wear clogs when gardening. Those who still wear these lumbering feet holders claim they are warm in the winter and cool in the summer, making them the perfect year-round shoe. The wood also easily absorbs sweat, allowing the foot to breathe. Perhaps they’re not as uncomfortable as they look?
How wooden shoes are made in the Netherlands
Traditionally, a hunk of wood was given the rough shape of a shoe with a special axe. The wood was dunked in water since wet wood doesn’t splinter so easily. The clog maker would then take a sharp knife to refine the outside of the shoe, before gutting a hollow shape on the inside. Drying the carved shoes took about three weeks before the design was finally painted on.
These days, however, the process has been sped up with machines that carve out the perfect shoe shapes. Each clog maker has its own signature design. But, sadly there are now only 12 official clog makers still operating in the Netherlands.
Traditional Dutch clog makers you can visit
Zaanse Schans is a popular tourist destination for traditional Dutch culture, including windmills, cheese, and of course — clogs! You can watch clogs being made for free at the workshop there and buy some straight from the manufacturer if you like. The village is 17 minutes from Amsterdam by train, but you can also get there by boat.
Simonehoeve is also not too far from Amsterdam and is a traditional cheese and clog factory. Here you can follow a guided tour of how clogs and cheese are made, and you can even decorate your own clogs at the workshop. The guided tour includes free cheese tasting, wine tasting, and traditional Dutch biscuits — yes, please!