CHIROPODISTS should be thrilled. The required footwear for this summer does not come with dainty little Louis heels or teetering stilettos, writes Marion Hume. If you are not walking barefoot - which may look fresh and lovely in fashion pictures, but is a touch impractical for most real life - the shape of summer footwear looks surprisingly like that of your foot.

That is rare. Fashionable shoes usually show little resemblance to the wide-toed reality of the human foot. Fashion, plus fetishism, has inflicted all manner of corns, ingrown toenails and even the horrors of Chinese binding. In the Fifties the haughty top model Barbara Goalen had her little toes removed so she could wear the most slender winkle-picker court shoes of the day.

Today's models are luckier. With the dubious exception of Vivienne Westwood's dangerous platforms, which defied even Naomi Campbell's efforts to stay upright on the catwalk, current hip footwear comes rounder at the front to let the toes splay out and is shaped inside to support much-neglected arches.

Birkenstocks, once sported only by Germanic ramblers while everyone else sniggered, have become fashionable. They are even worn with floating, wispy tea dresses - the kind once seen only out of doors with a delicate pair of sugar-pink Manolo Blahnik slingbacks.

There is a precedent for this combination of hefty footwear and nothing much above, and you can find it in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. A 15th-century version of Ovid's Heroides shows Ariadne - abandoned by Theseus after saving him from the Minotaur - wearing clumpy forerunners of the 1967 Birkenstock, and not a stitch else, to pad about the Greek island of Naxos.

The Birkenstock starts to look almost delicate in comparison with the heavy workboots such as Doc Martens, Blundstones, Northlakes and Caterpillars that are also being worn with flimsy dresses. The leading British fashion icon, Debbi Mason, fashion director of Mademoiselle in New York, has a sense of style that tends to be widely copied. She is sporting layers of tissue-thin antique clothing, finished off with the kind of hefty monkey boots men used to wear to work in the shipyards.

The workman's boot is also required footwear for dancing these days, as Aurora Castello, who dances from night to noon every weekend at the sweaty London club Trade, explains: 'The 20-hole DM boot, the Azzedine Alaa bustier and a pair of Calvin Klein men's underpants is the only outfit that can stand the constant shuddering dancing at 160BPMs (beats per minute) in a sweaty sauna of a club. DMs keep you up,' she says, 'they provide a solid base for all that rhythmic, upper-body piston thrusting.'

The British have always taken to odd footwear. The Americans, however, never quite get it. Following the trend for heavy workboots on the club scene here, Americans have taken them into their favoured dance arena, the gym. The British trend for stomp and clump footwear has mutated into a rather daft trend in footwear for high-kicking aerobics.

Still more bizarre, the humble Wellington boot is being appropriated by the fashion pack. In a recent issue of American Harper's Bazaar, the model Helena Christensen wears two nighties, visible stocking tops and a pair of wellies - and she obviously has no intention of going out in the rain.

It is well known that women can become obsessed by shoes - Imelda Marcos and Jackie Onassis are the most obvious examples. But it seems unlikely that either will be ordering custom-made shoe trees to keep fashion's latest required footwear in shape.

(Photographs omitted)