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We can go back as far as the beginning of history itself to find people using canes. Moses had his staff, Egyptian Kings had their rods (in fact, Tutankhamun is the first known collector of walking canes - having over 300 in his possession), Christian bishops had their Croziers and, over the course of the centuries, canes have been a symbol of wealth, power and prestige.
Go to any portrait gallery and you will see kings, princes, lords and distinguished men posing with their ornate walking canes. Of course, walking canes were not used as an aid to walking but as a fashion accessory. The more ornate the stick, the more powerful the person carrying it.
The variety of canes was something to behold. There were sticks with a range of animal heads for handles; there were carved wooden sticks; there were sticks with handles made from bone, ivory, silver or jade. And everyone in society had a stick, from the simple peasant with his hand-carved wooden cane to the Lords and Dukes with their gold and ivory canes.
Many of these canes even had multiple purposes - for example, some cunningly hid swords or even an air gun, or could double-up as an umbrella if it rained (and in that case, a good job it was too that it was a fashion accessory and not a walking aid!).
In the 20th century, Hollywood stars such as Fred Astaire used walking canes as dance props to great effect and it was still the done thing for a smart gentleman to carry a cane with him whilst out walking or going out for the evening. In recent years, however, there has been a decline in the use of the walking cane as a fashion accessory and they have become much more utilitarian in their looks and their use. Walking sticks have become almost solely mobility aids and unfortunately for whatever reason have lost a lot in workmanship and looks.
You can still buy decorative walking sticks if you look in the right places and there are still people who like to collect and use the smart walking canes of bygone eras, but if you look around you on the streets these days for the most part you will see the sturdy grey aluminum walking aids and the black collapsible walking aids for people who want something more convenient.
Maybe the decline of the fashionable walking cane came about when it was no longer seen as a fashion accessory but more of a mobility aid. It is an unfortunate fact of society that disabled people have been kept hidden from view and the fashion industry has not regarded them as worthy of their focus. If you do not notice the grey, boring walking stick then you do not notice the person using it.
Luckily there has been a reaction against this with both disabled and able-bodied designers bucking the trend and trying to revive the glory days of the walking cane. A quick search on the Internet will give a list of companies now promoting customized walking canes and other mobility aids, giving the discerning customer of today a genuine chance to buy into this highly fashionable and stylish niche market.
We can learn a lot from history and if an elegant walking cane was good enough for Pharoahs, kings, religious leaders and Hollywood stars, then why not for you?
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