History Lesson: Canes

by Ashley Van Spengen


These accessories started out as a necessary item for shepherds and travelers, as to keep thieves away or animals in line. This gradually turned into an accessory of power and strength, before turning into a object symbolizing authority and social prestige.


Middle Ages

By the Middle Ages, (in what is now Europe), a scepter carried in the right hand was a symbol of royal power, while one in the left hand represented justice. The church also began to use staffs to denote it's higher offices. A crooked staff with a hook held by a bishop was a symbol of his role as Shepherd to his congregation. The hook represented the Bishop drawing in his flock to the church.


As time went on they grew into something more of a fashion item. Rulers of ancient civilizations carried staffs that were commonly ornamented with symbols of authority and longevity, and reached anywhere from three feet to six feet tall, depending on social importance and reputation.

Walking Sticks

Walking sticks began to be constructed out of the jointed stems of tropical grasses such as bamboo, cane and rattan, changing the word walking stick into the one we now know as walking "canes". Even though walking stick was associated with those who uses the item for physical activity, such as hiking; whereas 'cane' was used for the elderly or those with a prolonged leg injury.

In the 1600's fashion began to form new etiquettes, and to break this code was a violation of good manners. To the point that in 1702, men in London, England were required to carry a license to carry/have a cane. It was a privilege to carry a cane, and if a gentlemen does not follow these protocols they could lose their license and cane! Authorities would police these rules, and it was considered an extreme violation of manners to carry a walking stick under one's arm, to brandish it in the air drag it on the ground or yo lean on it while standing.



The infamous Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, made canes fashionable for women to carry. Many of these canes were made of apple wood, and as to account the eloquence of these women of the rich and noble classes who lived in Versailles. 



Canes in the Modern Era

In instances, the walking stick replaced the swords as an accessory to dress in the 19th century, followed by the umbrella that has gradually replaced walking sticks or canes at the turn of the 20th century, for gentlemen who wanted to appear fashionable, high status and high society. When this happened, canes became what we know them as today, medical devices. As well as the stigma of walking with a cane began.

And with that, this was your history of canes! From a shepherds tool to a licensed privilege. It'll be interesting what the turn of time will make of these items, and how much further we'll progress.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.