The classic connection between the lord of the manor and man’s best friend is the ritual of a dog dutifully fetching his master’s slippers (and possibly pipe) to the easy chair at the end of a long, hard day. It’s a sweet gesture that may stretch back centuries. Dogs were first domesticated some 15,000 years ago. Chairs existed from the time of the Ancient Egyptians. But slippers didn’t appear until the 12th century. Come on, Fido!
We may think of slippers as simply a way to keep feet warm while padding from the bed to the bathroom, but throughout history they have fulfilled a variety of functions and come in elaborate designs. Of course, with their easy fit, typically generous cushioning and ability to be slipped on, they are a relief after hours in street shoes. But the point of early slippers was to protect floors—especially in sacred buildings where funky outdoor shoes weren’t welcome—as much as to comfort feet. Smoking slippers arose with the first cigar rooms of the Gilded Age. Gentlemen would retire for a smoke after dinner, changing their shoes and jacket and, perhaps, adding a fez. Velvet slip-on shoes are still a popular accompaniment with formalwear. Mount Street of London offers them decorated in several different cigar and cocktail designs.
As far as getting your dog to fetch your slippers, experts conjecture that the act of bringing slippers may be part genetic. They are hardwired to bring things back to the lair, part olfactory (their sensitive snouts make a connection between you and your footwear) and part learned behavior (they expect you to play). But we’re not so cynical and prefer to believe they are truly man’s best friends just trying to keep you comfortable.