Origin of ordinary things: High heels

Heels are representative of femininity and glamour. Net photo.

While heels are a representative of femininity and glamour, almost solely designed for women, the high heel was originally considered men’s apparel.

According to Teen Vogue, the origin of high-heels can be traced back to 15th Century Persia when soldiers wore them to help secure their feet in stirrups. Persian migrants brought the shoe trend to Europe, where male aristocrats wore them to appear taller and more formidable.

The pedestal-like chopine of the late 15th to the early 17th centuries transformed the upper-class European woman into a towering figure. Especially popular in Venice, the shoes were so exceptionally high, sometimes up to 54 cm, that maids were used as crutches. Chopines were completely hidden under skirts. The higher the footwear, the more cloth was required for the dress, another indication of status.

The first recorded instance of a high heeled shoe being worn by a woman was by Catherine de Medici in the 16th Century. She was about 150 centimeters tall and it is said she wanted to appear taller at her wedding.

Up until that time, women had been wearing platform shoes, some as high as 60 centimeters, in 16th century Europe.

Louis XIV of France, according to Image, kept men’s heels in vogue. At just five foot four, he wore heeled court shoes to make himself appear more powerful and domineering. Portraits of the royal show his heels were dyed red; this was an expensive pigment and emphasised his superior social status. King Louis famously enforced a rule banning anyone without red-soled shoes from entering his court. It is this luxury symbol that inspired modern footwear designer Christian Louboutin.

The right to wear heels eventually extended to the general population, but they remained chunky until after the end of World War II.

Pin-up posters during the 1940s and 1950s reinforced the idea that heels are the symbol of glamour and femininity, so much so that war-time soldiers famously stuck them on their walls. Meanwhile, the trend made its way into Hollywood. Stars, including Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe, wore heels in their films and glamour shots. As a result, everyday-women sought to replicate the look at home. The demand for heels grew and they made their way into local and high-end stores.

Roger Vivier, a shoe designer for Christian Dior, created the tallest, thinnest high-heel in the early 1950s. He named it the stiletto, after the Italian word for a thin dagger. Vivier used robust plastics to ensure strength and durability, while luxury fabrics maintained the element of style.

With modern-day footwear, women have more choice than ever. The high-heel has also merged with other footwear styles; platform trainers, heeled sandals and high-heel welly boots have made their way onto the runway and into high street fashion. Women, however, are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of high-heels and are choosing to avoid them, as they put a serious strain on a woman’s knees and ankles. Thankfully, wearing flats nowadays does not mean compromising on style.


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