The History of High Heels: 10 Facts That Surprise You

The History of High Heels: 10 Facts That Surprise You

The History of High Heels: 10 Facts That Surprise You

You may wear them every day or only for a special night out, but did you ever stop and think about how high heels came to be? The history of this particular shoe walks through war, politics, philosophy, and gender roles. Here are 10 things that will surprise you about the history of high heels.

1. Men Wore Them First

The first high heels were actually boots. In the 10th century in Persia, they were worn by calvary men who discovered that a tall heel hooked securely around a saddle stirrup and made for easier riding. Those in the midst of battle could hang on to their horses for protection without falling off.

2. They Avoided Garbage

Both men and women wore high heels throughout the medieval period in Europe, although they were expensive, so only nobles could afford them. It wasn't just to appear taller, however. Since the streets were often filled with trash and waste, high heels helped them rise above the garbage, keeping their clothes and the tops of their shoes clean while walking through town.

3. Their Height Was Regulated by Law

During the Renaissance in Venice, noblewomen and courtesans wore special platform shoes, called chopines, that were up to 20 inches tall. As women risked falling down in the street, a law was passed there to limit heels to 3 inches, although shoemakers ignored it. When commoners started wearing heels, their height was regulated according to the status of the wearer: no more than 1/2 an inch for those on the lower end of the social strata!

4. Changing Ideas Changed Heels

High heels initially spread all over Europe as only something for men to wear, but eventually, women started borrowing from men's fashion. In Northern Europe, women began to wear hats with large plumes and incorporated other "masculine" details on their dresses. Over time, men continued to wear chunky heels, but for women, they began to slim down, and the footbed began to lower, which everyone agreed was more attractive than the chunky platforms of the past.

When the Enlightenment swept through Europe, new ideas took hold about science and rationality. Men were no longer interested in wearing the elaborate clothes of the Renaissance period and started to believe that only women were interested in that kind of frivolity. They started to wear simpler, darker clothes and shoes with no heel. And as new religious beliefs sprung up, high heels were considered a temptation from the devil.

5. They Almost Disappeared

High heels went out of fashion in the 1800s as clothing became more and more conservative. Women mostly wore low-heeled, plain leather shoes that looked a lot like men's shoes of today. After the Civil War, the Pinet heel was introduced. It was a short but curved heel popular on lace-up women's boots. The Cromwell heel on a shoe with a buckle also become common. But the height of these heels remained relatively short. It would be decades before high heels rose in popularity again.

6. World War II Brought Heels Back

Due to wartime rationing, shoes for women were made out of different materials, like cork and wood. The women who went to work in factories wore practical shoes. But fashion trends from Europe soon spread to the United States, including high heels. Pin-up girl posters were created by the military for soldiers, and the models always wore high heels.

Most young American women began wearing high heels either near the of the war or soon after. They became standard attire for going out for a night on the town, and women had to learn how to dance in them. As the saying goes, "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backward and in high heels."

7. Stilettos Were Named After A Knife

New techniques for molding aluminum and steel that were invented for aircraft during the war spread to lots of everyday products, including shoes. Three designers, Salvatore Ferragamo, Roger Vivier, and André Perugia, have each been credited with inventing the stiletto heel in the early 1950s.

With a metal spike that traveled up from the heel to the shoe, heels could now be much slimmer, so much for they were named after the Italian knife that gangsters were known to carry. Stilettos continued to lengthen to about four inches during this period. Marilyn Monroe and Playboy popularized the stiletto even more, making it a seductive symbol for women out on the prowl.

8. Feminists Threw Them Out

You've probably heard that feminists burned their bras in the 1970s, but that's not true. This myth arose when feminists protested at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City in 1968, and they symbolically threw objects that they felt were confining into a "freedom trash can": bras, curlers, false eyelashes, and high heels, among other items. Feminists around the country stopped wearing them and gave their feet a break, at least for a little while.

9. Heels Went Back to Work

In the 1980s, women started climbing the corporate ladder, and this meant wearing high heels at work. Women all over New York were spotted wearing sneakers with their power suits and business dresses while on the subway and walking to work, slipping on their high heels just before they came into the office.

The hit show of the late 1990s, Sex, and the City, introduced brands like Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, and Christian Louboutin to a wide audience of women hungry to start dressing with more sex appeal.

10. Drag Queens Took Back the Heel

Women aren't the only ones wearing heels these days. Drag shows grew in popularity in New York, and other urban centers in the 1970s and drag queens had to find larger sizes of heels to fit their feet.

They have now become a symbol of drag queen culture and are celebrated at events like Washington, D.C.'s annual High Heel Race, a Halloween tradition. At the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes fundraisers, men walk a mile in high heels to raise money to end sexual violence.

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Credits to with Image © 2017, Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada.BATA SHOE MUSEUM

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