'Heels have gone through wars, laws, cultural, social, and political revolutions, so they have an undeniable role in society - and they’re clearly enduring.'
High heels are one of the favorite items of all fashion girls, and they should be! They are a great way to bring elegance to an outfit or to make a fashion statement if that’s your goal for the day. And you might be surprised when I tell you how they became such a big deal. Come with me as we figure it out - but let me get started by saying the earliest known example of high heels comes from ancient Iran, when it was still Persia, and it was the Persian army that first wore them. And not just any part of the army, but the mounted Persian archers, the ones who were said to be the scariest, most lethal group of them all - and they say heels are not practical.
I mean, they were not wearing five inches stiletto heels, but I would say it was not that far from it. And they were not wearing it because it was pretty and stylish either, it was actually for practical reasons - or so they thought. The idea was that having a longer heel would help their feet not slip from the stirrups when they stood up to fire their bows. And even though more than a thousand years have passed, the same principle is still used today, and that’s why cowboy boots have that little block heel - I just discovered that too and I think that’s so cool.
The heels coming to Europe probably happened via trade channels, as the Persians had a long history of exchanging goods with European empires and countries. There’s no way to say for sure if the shoes were actually traded or just passed as a cultural exchange or something like that, but it’s a fact that by the 1400s a lot of women in Spain, Venice, and other European cities were wearing heels - or chopines, a kind of platformed shoe of the time. And they were not the actual shoes, but something used over them to raise the people wearing them out of the filthy streets of medieval time.
It didn’t take long ‘till it became a fashion statement rather than a practical utility, and by then noblewomen and courtesans would have increased the height of their chopines, which even changed the way they walked, There was even a law in Venice that limited their height, but most women ignored it - I guess fashion has been causing trouble since forever. And by the 17th century, we had a model of high heels a lot more similar to what we know today, with toes closer to the ground. The biggest difference was that they were a status symbol made for powerful men, such as kings and princes.
One of the most famous, notorious kings of Europe, King Louis XIV of France, was particularly fond of heels and used them as a true power symbol. For him, the power of a man was in the height of the heels he’s wearing, and the king had many pairs made especially for him, in a variety of materials and colors, all in order to emphasize their luxury. And because society is not so different now from what it was back then, celebrities were also trendsetters, so heels became more and more common among the commoners as they tried to imitate the style of the king and his court - which led to rules defining the height of the heel based on social classes. It was not until the 18th century that common women started to adopt the style - only women of the court would wear them before. And that was also the time when men’s and women’s heels began to be more distinct from each other - because God forbid a man wear the same thing as a woman, right? Women’s shoes had thinner heels, so they were more uncomfortable and a lot less practical than men’s, but that was just ‘till The Renaissance, when men stopped wearing heels as they got convinced that they were rational beings, not like a woman who is totally irrational. Heels were worn just for status and fashion, with no utilitarian reason, so they were irrational. Therefore, they had to be given completely to women - but that gender switch wasn’t even the biggest change we had during this era.
Around the year 1780, the French Revolution started to light the country on fire - quite literally actually - and by that time nobody wanted to be associated with the royalty. And because high heels would be a symbol of royal power for so long, they became public enemy number one and all women spotted wearing them would receive the same punishment as witches, with stakes burning and everything. I mean it’s just a high heel, it's not that deep… But that’s what you get for being a woman in medieval times, I guess.
But in the second half of the next century, we had the comeback of high heels. They reappeared about 2 inches in height at first, but as time was passing heel designs were patented and they once again became a staple of luxury - and they were still strictly for women. That was also the time of mass production, so heels were not just for the noblewomen anymore, as they became a lot cheaper. Some years later, thing woulf change again, as the 20th century was marked by the World Wars, and the production would now be a lot more difficult and different - but that does not equals slowed demand.
The times were different by this time, and women would wear heels to accentuate their bodies. Those are shoes that typically make legs look longer, more toned, and help lift the buttocks. Also the proliferation of images of sexy, high-heeled women around the globe was getting more popular as icons like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn helped convince women that stiletto-heeled shoes were the quickest way to a man’s heart - even if most men were stuck in battle, miles away from home - but it’s thanks to the popularity of stilettos at that time that we love them so much today, so we’re not complaining. However, by the end of the century, things changed once again when a new wave of feminism came and made the idea of wearing heels to please men very unpopular. But even though high heels lowered in popularity, that was the time we got Manolo Blahnik so it wasn’t all bad for heels.
By the late 90s, one of fashion’s dearest times, we had a new comeback of heels. This time they came as a fashion statement, when David Bowie, Madonna and Freddie Mercury started using them that way - and of course society would follow the biggest names of the era. It was also around the same time that we had names such as Christian Loubotin and his famous red soles appearing on the fashion scene, and by then we would have designs that are appreciated and loved to this day - literally, the exact same shoes are still adored now, thirty years later.
As for today, the nature and cultural meaning of high heels are still complicated. Some wear it solely for aesthetic reasons, as others use them to make a statement. It can even be part of a woman’s uniform, which is common if you work an office job or so - but they’re not limited to women anymore. The rise of genderless fashion ideas has given the possibility of wearing heels to men again, even if they’re not so popular now. But heels have gone through wars, laws, cultural, social, and political revolutions, so they have an undeniable role in society - and they’re clearly enduring.