A clown starts his or her clowning from the ground up, which is why their big, floppy shoes are so recognizable. But what's behind this funny business?
Clown user "Tickles and Trouble" posed this question to Clown Forum, an online message board for clowns. Some of the clown responses include, "To make sure everyone in the audience get a big kick out the show," "They don't, everyone else just has little feet," and "Clowns have big feet because, we have a lot of sole!" Let's not ask clowns anymore.
The tradition originates from early clowns, upon whom modern iterations have based their look. The white face paint is said to come from Pierrot, a French clown, while the baggy clothes are inspired by Joseph Grimaldi's "Joey," who first appeared in England in the early 1800s and who Encyclopedia Britannica credits as being "the earliest of the true circus clowns."
Joey himself was likely inspired by even earlier characters from English touring theaters. The main three—Pickelherring, John Posset, and Stockfish—rose to popularity in the 17th century when these companies played throughout Germany, and their buffoonery was exemplified by the absurd clothing the actors wore—big shoes included.