High heels were made for MEN: History Of High Heel Shoesby Amaechi D. Blogger
High heels were made for MEN: History Of High Heel Shoes
For generations they have signified
femininity and glamour – but a pair of high
heels was once an essential accessory for
Beautiful, provocative, sexy – high heels may
be all these things and more, but even their
most ardent fans wouldn’t claim they were
They’re no good for hiking or driving. They
get stuck in things. Women in heels are
advised to stay off the grass – and also ice,
cobbled streets and posh floors.
And high heels don’t tend to be very
comfortable. It is almost as though they just
weren’t designed for walking in.
Originally, they weren’t.
“The high heel was worn for centuries
throughout the near east as a form of riding
footwear,” says Elizabeth Semmelhack of the
Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.
Good horsemanship was essential to the
fighting styles of the Persia – the historical
name for modern-day Iran.
“When the soldier stood up in his stirrups,
the heel helped him to secure his stance so
that he could shoot his bow and arrow
more effectively,” says Semmelhack.
At the end of the 16th Century, Persia’s Shah
Abbas I had the largest cavalry in the world.
He was keen to forge links with rulers in
Western Europe to help him defeat his great
enemy, the Ottoman Empire.
So in 1599, Abbas sent the first Persian
diplomatic mission to Europe – it called on
the courts of Russia, Germany and Spain.
A wave of interest in all things Persian
passed through Western Europe. Persian
style shoes were enthusiastically adopted by
aristocrats, who sought to give their
appearance a virile, masculine edge that, it
suddenly seemed, only heeled shoes could
As the wearing of
heels filtered into
the lower ranks of
height of their
shoes – and the
high heel was born.
In the muddy,
rutted streets of
Europe, these new
shoes had no utility
value whatsoever -
but that was the point.
“One of the best ways that status can be
conveyed is through impracticality,” says
Semmelhack, adding that the upper classes
have always used impractical, uncomfortable
and luxurious clothing to announce their
“They aren’t in the fields working and they
don’t have to walk far.”
When it comes to history’s most notable
shoe collectors, the Imelda Marcos of his day
was arguably Louis XIV of France. For a
great king, he was rather diminutively
proportioned at only 5ft 4in (1.63m).
He supplemented his stature by a further 4in
(10cm) with heels, often elaborately
decorated with depictions of battle scenes.
The heels and soles were always red – the
dye was expensive and carried a martial
overtone. The fashion soon spread overseas
- Charles II of England’s coronation portrait
of 1661 features him wearing a pair of
enormous red, French style heels – although
he was over 6ft (1.85m) to begin with.
In the 1670s, Louis XIV issued an edict that
only members of his court were allowed to
wear red heels. In theory, all anyone in
French society had to do to check whether
someone was in favour with the king was
to glance downwards. In practice,
unauthorised, imitation heels were available.
Although Europeans were first attracted to
heels because the Persian connection gave
them a macho air, a craze in women’s
fashion for adopting elements of men’s
dress meant their use soon spread to
women and children.
“In the 1630s you had women cutting their
hair, adding epaulettes to their outfits,” says
“They would smoke pipes, they would wear
hats that were very masculine. And this is
why women adopted the heel – it was in an
effort to masculinise their outfits.”
From that time, Europe’s upper classes
followed a unisex shoe fashion until the end
of the 17th Century, when things began to
“You start seeing a change in the heel at this
point,” says Helen Persson, a curator at the
Victoria and Albert Museum in London. “Men
started to have a squarer, more robust,
lower, stacky heel, while women’s heels
became more slender, more curvaceous.”
The toes of women’s shoes were often
tapered so that when the tips appeared
from her skirts, the wearer’s feet appeared
to be small and dainty.
Fast forward a few more years and the
intellectual movement that came to be
known as the Enlightenment brought with it
a new respect for the rational and useful
and an emphasis on education rather than
privilege. Men’s fashion shifted towards
more practical clothing. In England,
aristocrats began to wear simplified clothes
that were linked to their work managing
It was the beginning of what has been
called the Great Male Renunciation, which
would see men abandon the wearing of
jewellery, bright colours and ostentatious
fabrics in favour of a dark, more sober, and
homogeneous look. Men’s clothing no
longer operated so clearly as a signifier of
social class, but while these boundaries
were being blurred, the differences
between the sexes became more
“There begins a discussion about how men,
regardless of station, of birth, if educated
could become citizens,” says Semmelhack.
“Women, in contrast, were seen as
emotional, sentimental and uneducatable.
Female desirability begins to be constructed
in terms of irrational fashion and the high
heel – once separated from its original
function of horseback riding – becomes a
primary example of impractical dress.”
High heels were seen as foolish and
effeminate. By 1740 men had stopped
wearing them altogether.
But it was only 50 years before they
disappeared from women’s feet too, falling
out of favour after the French Revolution.
By the time the heel came back into fashion,
in the mid-19th Century, photography was
transforming the way that fashions – and
the female self-image – were constructed.
Pornographers were amongst the first to
embrace the new technology, taking
pictures of Unclad women for dirty
postcards, positioning models in poses that
resembled classical nudes, but wearing
modern-day high heels.
Elizabeth Semmelhack, author of Heights of
Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe,
believes that this association with
Indecency led to high heels being seen as
an Intimate adornment for women.
A rare sight – men in high heels at a gay
pride party in Spain in 2005
The 1960s saw a return of low heeled
cowboy boots for men and some dandies
strutted their stuff in platform shoes in the
But the era of men walking around on their
toes seems to be behind us. Could we ever
return to an era of guys squeezing their big
hairy feet into four-inch, shiny, brightly
coloured high heels?
“Absolutely,” says Semmelhack. There is no
reason, she believes, why the high heel
cannot continue to be ascribed new
meanings – although we may have to wait
for true gender equality first.
“If it becomes a signifier of actual power,
then men will be as willing to wear it as
High heels were made for MEN: History Of High Heel Shoes
LOL so high heels were made for MEN!!!
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Created on Apr 7th 2013 16:39. Viewed 529 times.