For people with the name Barefoot, see Barefoot (surname)

Going barefoot (also barefooted) means for a person not to use, or to go without, any type of foot covering. It is traditional to go barefoot in many developing countries, but less common in industrialized countries due to greater societal taboos, fashions, or peer pressure against going barefoot. A barefooter is someone who prefers to go barefoot occasionally, often, or at all times. Calling oneself a barefooter implies that being barefoot is a voluntary choice (as opposed to, for example, not being able to afford shoes), or whenever use of footwear is decided to be unnecessary. Reasons for choosing to go barefoot include the sensation of one’s feet in direct contact with the ground, and to confirm many perceived spiritual or natural health benefits one may experience.

Religious and cultural aspects

Acts of devotion

Many religious traditions consider removing shoes as a pious gesture of humility, especially appropriate when approaching holy places.

  • In Exodus, Moses had to take off his shoes before approaching the burning bush
  • Muslims are usually unshod for prayer (commonly on a prayer mat) or to attend services in a mosque, though socks are permissible.
  • Some Christian churches practice barefoot pilgrimage traditions—an example being the ascent of Croagh Patrick in Ireland.
  • In the Hindu and Buddhist religions, shoes are removed before entering temples.
  • A Jain monk or nun wanders bare-foot from place to place (except for the four months of the rainy season), said to help him or her avoid killing insects and small animals.
  • Among many neopagan reconstructionists, bare feet are considered an ideal way to remain in touch with the elements.
  • During her 730-day tree-sit, Julia Butterfly Hill remained barefoot—even in winter—"because she has to have the connection" with Luna, the tree in which she lived.
  • In Maori culture, shoes must be taken off before entering marae as a sign of respect.

Going barefoot is also a common form of mortification, often combined with others such as pilgrimage, either as penance or asceticism. Roman Catholic religious orders that permanently restrict the ability of members to wear footwear are known as "discalced", though in reference to certain religious orders the term means wearing only sandals on the feet. Barefoot orders include the barefoot Carmelites or Camaldolese and the Teresian. Many Pagans, Neopagans, and Native Americans go barefoot so as to feel connected to Mother Earth.

Regional traditions

In many cultures it is considered inappropriate, even rude, to wear shoes indoors. It may be acceptable to wear shoes in public places (e.g. museums or libraries), but people are usually expected to go barefoot, or wear socks, inside dwellings. This is usually true for countries where inclement weather is frequent, such as Japan, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Norway, or Canada, and serves the purpose of minimizing the amount of dirt and mud brought in from the outside. The ceremony or ordeal of firewalking entails walking barefooted through fire, over a bed of embers, or over hot stones.

Sign of poverty or mourning

The tradition of bare feet denoting status dates to Roman times, when it was traditional for prosperous Roman citizens to wear elaborate clothing, including footwear, while slaves and lower-class citizens went barefoot. In Medieval times, leather shoes and boots were expensive, so poorer people often either went barefoot or wrapped their feet in cloth. In art and literature, bare feet often symbolize poverty. In Jewish tradition, shoes are not worn by mourners during the ritual Shiva mourning period. Just as "sack cloth and ashes" or even full nudity, it was also a sign of mourning in Antiquity.

Symbol of innocence

Bare feet also denotes innocence in American literary tradition, commonly seen in work from the 18th and 19th centuries. Going barefoot was a standard part of childhood play, especially in rural areas, as was shown in the season 2 opening of The Waltons, (which was set in Virginia during the Great Depression in the show's early seasons) where a young Kami Cotler as Elizabeth Walton is shown in the very last scene barefoot.

It features prominently in the novels of Mark Twain and the poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier. Barefoot children and young women are also common in the paintings and sketches of Norman Rockwell, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, and the artists affiliated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Symbol of peace

One way to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi is to walk barefoot around his monument. Even Pope John Paul II and George W. Bush paid him this honor, as shoes are banned within Gandhi's memorial site, Raj Ghat.


There are many myths and popular misconceptions regarding regulations against bare feet.

Driving barefoot

Regulations concerning driving barefoot vary from one jurisdiction to another:

  • In the United States, widespread belief in the existence of laws against driving automobiles barefoot has been debunked as an urban legend. However, driving a motorcycle barefoot is prohibited in Alabama.
  • In the UK, The Highway code merely states that footwear should not interfere with the operation of the controls of the vehicle. So driving barefoot is not expressly forbidden.
  • In Germany, traffic laws do not forbid driving barefoot, although causing an accident driving barefoot may bring insurance companies to deny payments.
  • In Belgium, the driving code does not explicitly ban barefoot driving, but article 8.3 requires drivers to be "constantly able to perform any maneuver". According to the federal police, this implicitly bans barefoot driving.
  • In Hong Kong, there is no law prohibiting or proscribing the type or lack of footwear while driving, though it is illegal to be dressed in a manner that interferes with an individual's ability to drive.
  • In Italy, driving barefoot is allowed.
  • In New Zealand, traffic laws do not forbid driving barefoot.
  • In Australia, there are no laws to prohibit barefoot driving.
  • In Brazil, CTB Article 252, IV prohibits, "Driving the car...using footwear that does not hold firm to the feet or that compromises the use of the pedals." Popular advice is that driving barefoot is recommended over driving with inappropriate footwear.

No shoes, no shirt, no service

Although it is commonly believed in the United States believe that OSHA regulations prevent people from going to stores, restaurants, and the like without shoes (or a shirt), OSHA regulations refer specifically to employees, not customers. There are no state health codes that ban customers from going barefoot in establishments, as is demonstrated by a project undertaken by The Society for Barefoot Living. Individual businesses, however, are free to refuse to serve customers without the footwear they deem appropriate. Individual cities and towns may also require certain footwear in public places.

Health issues


Consistent practice, caution, and instinctive awareness are essential to safely going barefoot. Hazards to the foot may include sharp objects that can cut the foot and extreme temperatures. Poisonous plants, animals or parasites can enter the body through the cuts on an injured bare foot, and the occasional use of footwear can be valuable in protecting them. In addition, individuals with diabetes or other conditions which affect sensation within the feet are at greater risk of injury while barefoot, so they must compensate safety with greater awareness of the ground's environment.


A 2006 study found that shoes may increase stresses on the knee and ankle, and suggested that adults with osteoarthritis may benefit from walking barefoot, though more study is required to elucidate the factors that distribute loads in shod and barefoot walking. A 1992 correlational study also found that children who wore shoes were three times more likely to have flat feet than those who did not, and suggested that wearing shoes in early childhood can be detrimental to the longitudinal arch of the foot. A 1991 review article found that barefoot walking supported optimum foot development, and the best use of shoes are to protect the foot from injury rather than for correction of problems. Other doctors believe shoes have use in correcting mild deformities such as flat feet.

See also



External links

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