Ghillie shoes are tongueless shoes which originate in Scotland, where they were designed to be worn in the often wet and muddy environment of the Scottish countryside. From Scotland, ghillies spread elsewhere, and as a result they are commonly found in Ireland and other damp regions of the world. Today, ghillie shoes are most commonly seen on the feet of dancers, as they are very well suited for dancing.
The basic design of the ghillie shoe is quite ancient, and similar designs have been devised by many cultures. Classic ghillie shoes have a soft sole with sides which go partway up the foot, joined with sturdy laces which may wrap around the ankle and up the leg to ensure that the shoe is secure. In the case of dance ghillies, the opening in the shoe is often quite large; ghillie shoes designed for outdoor work tend to have a smaller opening under the laces, to protect the foot beneath.
The advantage to not having a tongue is that water and mud cannot get trapped in the shoe, but instead flow freely out. When ghillies are worn with thick socks, the feet can be quite warm and comfortable, and they will not be weighed down by a collection of water and muck. This is what makes the ghillie shoe ideally suited to Scotland, as the environment there is often quite wet.
Ghillies could be compared to moccasins, another style of soft shoe designed by native peoples to conform with their natural environment. A sturdy pair of ghillie shoes can last a long time, especially if the shoes are regularly cleaned and oiled to keep the leather in supple condition. People who hunt and fish using traditional techniques may choose to wear ghillies while out in the woods, as these shoes are also extremely quiet and easy to move in.
In the world of dance, ghillie shoes often appear on the feet of Irish and Scottish dancers, for obvious reasons, but they can be worn in a variety of schools of dance, from modern to interpretive. Dance ghillies are often made from very lightweight leather, and they come in an assortment of colors to go with various dance costumes. Ghillie shoes can also be found in stores which cater to people who wear traditional Irish and Scottish dress, with dress ghillies being available from many stores for weddings, funerals, and other major events when formal dress shoes might be required.