On a night out in a bar, club or restaurant you’re guaranteed to see women of all shapes and sizes wearing high heels. The height enhancing, sex-symbol shoes are a fashion staple of our generation. However, while designer heels are coveted and treasured, they can be uncomfortable. Contrasting heels with any other style of shoe leads to the question, where did they come from? Jones Bootmaker has traced the history of the heel.
Surprisingly, heels have history that stretches back to ancient Egypt. Murals in 3500BC depicted the Egyptian social elite wearing heeled footwear with decorative lacing that resembled the Ankh symbol. The ancient Greek’s used platform sandals during their plays. These were called Cothurnus and helped indicate the importance and social status of their character. The higher the better!
The Roman Empire adopted their version of the heel in 200BC. The Kothorni heel was a shoe built onto a high wooden cork sole. Invented for use by male actors, they became famous for their association with the roman sex trade. Prostitutes would wear the heels to advertise their availability.
Heels styled after Kothornis would be seen throughout Europe for hundreds of years, worn by men on horseback, as the longer heel helped keep their feet in stirrups.
During the 1400’s, two styles of shoe came to prominence. Pattens were wooden soles that were attached to the feet to keep shoes out of the mud. Chopines from Turkey were specifically for women. The high platform shoes could be freakishly high, requiring assistants that would help the wearer walk.
The Louis Heel
King Louis XIV of France loved the Turkish heels so much that he began wearing ornate high heels that added 5 inches to his height. They became status symbols for French aristocracy, but Louis would not allow anyone to wear heels higher than his own.
When Napoleon led the revolution he banned high heels as a symbol of nobility. As a defiant member of the old social elite, Marie Antoinette went to her execution wearing them.
Despite the ban and a similar one by puritan colonists of early America, heels were destined to re-emerge as fashionable status symbols.
During the 20th century, heels returned in many forms. The Cuban heel was a thicker version of the Louis heel and was worn in 1904 and again during the 60’s. The 1920’s saw the birth of the Spanish heel to coincide with the rising hemline of the roaring 20’s.
However, it was not until 1955 that the most striking of all heels would be invented. The Stiletto high heel was designed by Christian Dior and Roger Vivier. Named after Italian knives that taper to a point, the Stiletto was both loved and hated by women. Some saw them as leg-lengthening fashion must-haves while feminists thought they crippled the feet and only existed to benefit men.
Nowadays, heels occupy a significant portion of women’s shoe sales all over the world. Whether you’ve got one pair or 100 tucked away in your wardrobe, it’s strange to think that heels were once more popular with male horse riders than they were with women!