The Evolution of High Heels
By Sadira Sittampalam
High heels are a doubleedged sword. While they give you height, power and confidence they also give you pain. Yet, most women negate the often significant disadvantages of heels in order to reap their benefits. But how did it come to this? And why do we continue to put ourselves in an uncomfortable position just to wear these contraptions? Well, it all started in 10th Century Iran, where men first started to wear high heels! Persian soldiers would wear heels while riding horseback as this helped keep their feet nice and secure in their stirrups, especially while they stood up in the saddle to fire arrows.
This eventually travelled to Europe through trade and by the 16th Century, high heels had made their way into European fashion. You would see men walking around in boots with heels which very quickly became fashionable for rich courtiers and kings in particular. During this period it would actually be considered more than strange for women to be wearing high heels.
They were for men only. European aristocrats became so enamoured by high heels as they made you look a lot more domineering, adding those few extra inches to make you tower over others - and the richer you were the higher the heel. Thus, high heels had evolved to become a symbol of wealth, status and masculinity throughout Europe.
One of the most famous historical figures associated with high heels was King Louis XIV of Franch, as countless portraits of him show off his fancy high heels. He had his made with materials like velvet and satin, painted in gorgeous shades of blue and red. It was only by the late 17th Century that women had also started to wear fashion heels. However, in the 18th Century, during the time of the French Revolution, the public’s view on heels changed as they became more and more disenchanted with royalty. Men and women both started swapping out their heeled shoes for flats, not wanting to have any association with royalty.
They also started dressing down, leaving behind extravagant fashion - particularly men (which is a trend that has remained to this day) By the 19th Century, the heel returned to centre stage, but this time, for women. High heels became seen as increasingly feminine and began to be linked to female erotica. 19th Century erotic photographers found that heels made women look a lot more feminine, better defining their legs and bottoms, leading to better photos. Then in the 1950s, technological advances in shoemaking allowed for heels to be made thinner and higher. This is when the stiletto was born, quickly becoming a staple in any woman’s wardrobe.
Now, the 50s are known as the golden age of high heels, with some of the most iconic celebrity fashionistas like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe helping to define the era with this high heel trend for women. This is the era that cemented high heels in modern fashion history, carrying the trend for years to come. Nevertheless, in the 1970s the high heels reputation did suffer as women grew tired of dressing to please men, rebelling against this ideal with the rise of feminism. However, this didn’t last for too long, as by the 1980s, women re-claimed the heel as a fashion statement and a symbol of power rather than something to just look good for men.
This even brought about a range of new high heeled shoes - finally bringing in platform and chunky heels, which rebelled against the high-femme look of the 50s stilleto. Since then, not much has changed except maybe new styles of heels. While the heel started as a pretty practical option for footwear, it has evolved to be many things, no matter how impractical. While it has gone in and out of fashion over the centuries, it has never quite disappeared, remaining with us to this day. Now, with more people experimenting with gender-fluid fashion, the future could very well be a place where both men and women can wear heels, giving us those few extra inches of height that seem to add so much to our mentality of who we are and how we present ourselves to the world.