History

The History of High Heels

We often see women in high heels wherever they go, be it to events or on a simple day out. They just love their high heels too much to go anywhere without them. Whilst men would often opt for comfortable flat heeled shoes as their daily footwear.

But believe it or not, initially, high heels were invented by men, for men. The heels origin is closely related to horse riding and warriors in which they need to have the ability to hold tight to their horse’s saddles as stated by podiatrist and shoe historian Cameron Kippen.

Consequently, you had all these masculine men swaggering about their ways in boots with heels, but this quickly turns fashionable particularly to the rich courtiers and kings.


PHOTO: When men still wore heels: A pair of men’s mules from England c1690-1715.

In the 16th century, Catherine de Medici was one of the first instances where women were recorded wearing high heeled shoes. Our Catherine wanted to look taller on her big day, which was her wedding since she was only about 150cm tall, so she thought of putting on a pair of high heeled shoes.

But during that time, in the 16th century Europe, women are synonym with wearing platform shoes that were really, really tall, some as high as 60cm. And platform shoes predate high heels but the women would often fall over their platform shoes and in some cases, pregnant women who wore them would fall and even had miscarriages so it was legislated against.

People at the time quickly came to a realisation that they needed to design safer shoes for women, but still giving them height. So instead of just creating the same old flat shoes, the shoemakers of the time carved out the front side of the platform and created high heels which were safer than those overly tall platform shoes.

More or less 200 years since then, during the reign of the French king, Louis XIV. High heels were becoming a favourite footwear again, but this time it’s also among the men.


PHOTO: A detail from a portrait of Louis XIV in the 1700s, showing the red heeled shoes he restricted to a favoured few.

High heeled shoes for women in terms of fashion during the 16th century ended with the death of de Medici. And they started wearing low heeled shoes. But the oh so masculine men were always in love with the idea of towering above everyone else, making them feel superior.

Louis XIV was amongst these men. He even went to the point where he gave his own name to an actual heel. Louis XIV had his own designated or trademarked shoes, if you will. A red coloured heel that everyone else in the French court aren’t allowed to wear or copy. Although he gave his blessing to a favoured few to wear. He’s always strutting around with his favourite red tight fitting high heeled shoes which were also very highly decorated.


PHOTO: A yellow silk heel from England, circa 1760-1765, with a ‘Louis’ heel, named for the style worn at the court of Louis XIV.

High heeled shoes were an important status symbol and during Louis XIV’s time, were restricted to only the nobilities in the French court at Versailles. Since the courtiers and those that belonged to the upper class had the privilege and money, they’d always want to outdo each other and for that reason, emulating the royal family in any country that you were in was illegal.

Whilst the upper class people trying to outdo each other, the ordinary citizens would go about their life without a care about the fashion sense of the nobilities. There were very few people that were trying to be fashionable during the 1700’s. Maybe because if you’d wore high heeled shoes without permission, you would literally lose your head.


PHOTO: Stiletto heels were developed after World War II, and have been in style ever since. (Chloe from Madre)

Although after those time, everyone in the general population could wear high heels without the fear of getting their head chopped off by the guillotine, there were still so few that really wears them, until after the end of World War II that is.

Stiletto heels were created after World War II; stilettos have a small piece of metal which joined the inside of the shoes that was sufficient enough for the heel and the front of the shoes for them to operate separately and could actually even bend and twist. Known back then as a shank. After the shoemaker figured how to manage that in their designs, high heels have been looking much more alike to those we’re seeing today.

Although in the past heels were more of an arch support for the feet in which why the heels placed closer to the middle of the foot, unlike today where they’re usually place at the back end of the shoes.


PHOTO: Aylee; a pair of high heels from Madre with Arch Supports technology.

Initially the creation of the modern high heels was a great cause of concern with warnings and health foreboding about the complications of wearing the high heels. But with time people are starting to accept that although there are complications, they weren’t serious enough for them to completely give up the usage of high heels.

And with that, high heels designs continue to evolve until today, in which I would say have had a lot of improvement since the 16th century, and even after the World War II. High heels today are a lot comfier you could wear it with less to no worry at all.

Yours,
S.A.

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