Photo Credit: The Guardian
The history of high heels can actually be traced back to Egypt, 3500BC, where murals on walls show upper class citizens wearing heels for ceremonial purposes, as well as Egyptian butchers wearing them to help them walk through the blood of dead animals (thank you wikipedia for that mental image).
However, it wasn’t until the 16th century when it is claimed that high heels were properly invented. It was in 1533, when Catherine de Medici decided to wear heels on her wedding day to Henry II, a Duke and the future King of France. She was 14 and quite short (not more than 5 foot), so asked a cobbler to make her shoes that would make her appear much taller on her wedding day.
Apparently, she wasn’t really a beauty and her husband had a tall and really pretty mistress. She wanted to dazzle the French on her wedding day, so opted for 2 inch heels to make her appear slightly taller, and appear to have a more towering physique. It is claimed that she is the original inventor of the high heel, and she did set the rage in Paris for heeled shoes.
Other monarchs who loved to wear heels were Mary Tudor, who loved wearing heels as high as possible, and Marie Antoinette, who famously wore a pair of 2 inch heels when she was executed.
With the success of heels thanks to Catherine de Medici, heels became really popular in the French Court, amongst wealthy men and women, and this quickly spread to other parts of the nobility. Heeled shoes became very popular amongst the rich and powerful people and was seen as a dividing line between classes. The phrase ‘well heeled’ was used for the rich.
It remained that only the rich wore heels for quite some time, and even in the early 1700’s, Louis XIV (King of France) decided to wear very high heels (often up to 5”), which had decorative patterns on them, such as miniature battle scenes. It was Madame de Pompadour who helped Louis popularize high narrow heels, which are often referred to as either the ‘Louis’ heel or the ‘Pompadour’ heel.
The shoe was quickly banned after the French revolution, when Napoleon came to power (late 18th Century-early 19th Century).Napoleon wanted everyone to appear equal and because the heel was something that rich people used, many didn’t want to be linked to it. The French Revolution was all about moving away from traditional hierarchies and society moved away from aristocratic values.
The 18th Century also saw heels becoming very controversial in America. The Massachusetts Colony banned women wearing them, saying that women used them to trap men, and anyone seen wearing them would be prosecuted as witches. The English Parliament also used this logic and treated women wearing heels as witches. Many critics at the time compared the high heel to the cloven hoof of the devil.
It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that heels became popular again. The invention of the sewing machine meant that there could be greater variety in high heels themselves.
But it wasn’t until my favorite period of history, the roaring twenties, that the heel regained it’s full glory again. Hemlines became much shorter, and this encouraged very high and slender heels.
Both the 30’s and 40’s were tough times, so the heel became more moderate, with lower and wider heels. At the same time, though, Hollywood gave the heel a new edge, with many actresses wearing sparkly and glitterry heels, which challenged the traditional French heel.
The 50’s and 60’s saw a revival of really high heels. Christian Dior kindly invented the stiletto for us. He collaborated with designer Roger Vivier to develop a low cut ‘Louis’ shoe, with a narrow heel. Interesting fact: Stiletto in Italian means small dagger, with a slender, tapering blade.
Then, with the creation of the miniskirt in the 60’s (my second favorite decade), heeled boots were made, to enhance the look of bare legs.
The emerging feminist movement did a lot to change perceptions on how the heel was viewed. Many women stopped wearing heels as it was claimed that wearing them indicated the sexual stereotyping by men. They were seen as ‘man made’ objects for the use of crippling women.
This theory lost favor in the 80’s, with the invention of power dressing. Heels were bought back to the catwalk, with Manolo Blahnik’s shoes making a huge impact, and the world has never looked back.
Did you know this about high heels? Will you it make you think differently next time you slip on a pair?
Guest blog submitted by Hi Fashion