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A character appears barefoot as a sign of their poverty. Usually, the camera will linger on their feet to emphasize the lack of shoes. Bonus points if they are shown walking in the snow and shivering from the cold. A common variation includes a shot of them looking at a pair of Nice Shoes with longing. Often used to make the character seem like a woobie.
Originally nobody wore shoes, though in colder countries they might wrap their feet in cold weather. In the last few thousand years shoes gained prevalence through their association with status - making shoes requires skill and wearing them meant you were above such things as walking on the ground. Thus those who wore shoes were the nobility, and those who aspired to be nobility (this is also how foot-binding became so popular in China).
It may seem strange nowadays, but being barefoot is entirely natural and was once completely normal in all cultures. While many cultures have yet to fully adopt the idea that walking barefoot is somehow shameful, those that never wear shoes have shrunk to small and usually isolated communities. Some cultures, such as the Maori, have a strong historical and social emphasis on walking barefoot and Maori schools often require children to not wear shoes.
Anime and Manga
- Several shinigami from the poorest districts of the Rukongai grew up barefooted because of the poverty they lived in, including: Rukia and Renji (both from District 78), Yachiru (from District 79) and Kenpachi (from District 80). In the anime, Ikkaku is included in this, although the manga never confirms if this is true or not.
- Becomes a plot point during the final arc - the denizens of Soul Society's worst districts are disappearing en masse, leaving only footprints, including some shoe prints. It's revealed that people who live within Districts 50-80 are so poverty-stricken, none have been known to wear shoes for 550 years. This clues in Lieutenant Kira to the fact that the conclusion villagers killed each other is wrong and that entire villages are being slaughtered by shinigami. Thanks to Kira's revelation, it's discovered that, because a huge number of hollows were annihilated by Quincies, Mayuri's men comitted mass murder to avoid a pan-dimensional disaster that could destroy entire worlds: killing spirit-dwelling villagers counter-balanced the destroyed hollows in a case of Balancing Death's Books.
- Naturally, Barefoot Gen. Given that it takes place in World War II, many characters are unable to afford shoes but others, such as Gen, do not wear shoes except to school. Japan has a long tradition asosiated with being barefoot that is sadly dwindling in the face of Western influences.
- Taro Maria Sekiutsu in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is portrayed as this with socks and shoes. Even after the others in the class try and get her into a Instant Cosplay Surprise or other normal outfits actually wearing socks and/or shoes, it gives her vertigo because she has never worn them before.
- In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the title character envies Huckleberry Finn for not having to wear shoes. He doesn't seem to realize it's because Huck doesn't have any shoes, or even parents to make him put them on if he did.
- Enid Blyton's The Castle Of Adventure features a poor village girl who never wears shoes. Gifted her first pair, she keeps them, delighted - and wears them around her neck.
- In the short story "The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes" an orphan girl is so poor she only has one shoe. When a wealthy man gives her a pair of shoes she's so happy she goes about telling everyone that now she has two shoes, earning that nickname. ("Goody" being a then-standard shortening of "Goodwife," that is, Miss.)
- Several illustrations of Les Misérables, including the most famous one centering on Cosette.
- In Little House in Brookfield (the first book in "The Caroline Years," a prequel series to the Little House on the Prairie books and about Laura Ingalls' mother growing up) Caroline's oldest sister goes to church barefoot one day because the family is too poor to buy her new shoes and the old ones pinch her feet something terrible. She thinks her new long dress will cover up her shoeless feet, and she's right for most of the time but eventually gets caught. Her parents are not pleased.
- The Little Match Girl, who's barefoot out in the freezing winter, as a result of Abusive Parents.
- In Milkweed, Misha and the other orphans claim everyone is so poor that they check dead corpses for shoes.
- Juana in John Steinbeck's The Pearl.
- Velvet McIntyre because Wrestling Doesn't Pay. Her boots were stolen in real life so she just decided to wrestle barefoot.
- Aladdin is barefoot until he becomes a prince.
- Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a poor Gypsy girl who runs around barefoot. At the end of the film, she falls in love with the clearly wealthy-looking Captain of the Guard, Phoebus, and in the sequel she inexplicably gains shoes.
- Inverted in Atlantis the Lost Empire: the hero is a very poor archaeologist from the surface world who wears shoes, while his love interest is a wealthy, but barefoot Atlantean princess. At the end of the film, the two marry, and as a result he ends up barefoot instead while said princess, er queen gains sandals, which are concealed by her dress.
- Members of various monastic orders swear oaths of poverty, restricting them to only a tiny set of possessions: shoes often not included.