While canes are still status symbols following the Middle Ages, as well as communications of power, and at times ceremonial, they become seen as significant fashion accessories from 1500 to 1700. Canes unique to ladies also are seen.
During the 16th century, we begin to see cane shafts made of bamboo and cane, palm and rattan. It is thought by some that this is where the practice of calling walking sticks “canes” came from. Shafts made from these plants were hollow, and it’s not long before these hollow shafts were used to a person’s physical advantage. Particularly, sword canes, canes with rapiers concealed in the hollow of the shaft, became common among gentlemen. During this time, a classic was developed by a German count: the “fritz” cane. His goal in creating the fritz handle was to ease the discomfort of grasping the handle from sufferers of arthritis. It has been described as a cane that achieved a more stable and natural feeling.
The 17th century is recognized as the period in history when the walking stick achieved the status of fashion accessory. In the royal courts of Europe, it was a fashion accessory for the nobility. They were elaborately decorated to complement attire as jewelry would and were very richly embellished. Shafts were made of costly materials, such as ivory, tortoise shell, and mother of pearl. France’s Louis XIII and Louis XIV carried such implements. Louis XIII carried a rather simple walking stick for a king of ebony shaft with ivory knob, favoring this stick to the scepter. It is during the reign of Louis XIII, that the nobility began to carry the “rod”, a light stick. This hollow stick could be dangerous as it could function as a type of blowpipe. Using it as such eventually became prohibited. Like his father, Louis XIV valued the walking stick. In fact, it is said that he never appeared in public without one. Naturally, French officials followed suit, adopting this practice. Fashion accessory though they were, walking sticks also held a symbolic role. For instance, in England, official members of the royal court would break the cane of the deceased and throw place it in the coffin as a ceremonial sign of mourning.
Towards the middle of the century we see the length of shaft that is common today becoming more prevalent. Today’s shaft is commonly around three feet in length. Before the middle of the 17th century, walking sticks were more commonly two feet, ten inches.
Also during this century there is the appearance of ladies canes. Ladies valued walking sticks as men did. As men did, they also viewed them as an accessory, or as a complement to an outfit. Additionally, ladies during this time period needed the walking stick as a literal means of support as they wore high heels.
From 1500 to 1700, walking sticks were largely a complement to a person’s dress, and for gentleman began to be the implement of choice in place of the obvious sword. It also became common for ladies to use this fashionable implement.