Welcome to Fun Fact Friday, where we uncover fascinating knowledge nuggets to liven up your day!
Today we're talking about something we all use but probably don't think much about – shoe sizing. Did you know that the measuring shoe system has a secret ingredient? That's right, and it's called barleycorn. Don't believe us? Read on to learn the remarkable story of how barleycorn became the foundation of shoe sizing!
The History of Barleycorn and Shoe Sizing
Believe it or not, the concept of standardized shoe sizing wasn't always around. Back in the day, people simply made shoes to fit their own feet or traded shoes with others until they found a pair that fit. But as shoe production increased, manufacturers needed a way to ensure that shoes would fit most people, not just the lucky few.
Tradesmen of old used body parts as a unit of measure. For example, the length of an outstretched arm was used to measure a yard of fabric.
Unsurprisingly, these inexact units of measure were known to cause arguments and even violence in business dealings. I can imagine buying fabric only on a day when the tall person on staff was measuring.
Enter barleycorn. This tiny seed, used to measure weight and length in the Middle Ages, was adopted as the standard unit of measurement for shoe sizes in England in the 1300s. A barleycorn was about 1/3 of an inch, so shoe sizes were based on how many barleycorns could fit in the shoe.
But here's where it gets even more interesting - different regions had different barleycorn measurements! So a size 9 shoe in one part of England might be a size 8 in another. It wasn't until the 1800s that a standardized measurement system was developed based on the average length of a man's foot.
Even though barleycorn isn't used to measure shoe sizes anymore, it still has a place in footwear. Some shoe manufacturers use barleycorn patterns in the design of their shoes, and there are even shoe brands named after barleycorn, such as the Scottish brand Barbour. Plus, if you're a beer lover, you might recognize the name barleycorn from its use in brewing!
So there you have it - the secret ingredient in shoe sizing is none other than barleycorn. Who knew that a tiny seed could have such a significant impact on the way we shop for shoes? So the next time you slip on a pair of sneakers or heels, take a moment to appreciate the history behind the size on the label. And as always, stay tuned for the next Fun Fact Friday!