After my last post on heels, I got curious as to the origins of the high heel. One thing I saw repeated in the comment and in my research that many women where it because men find it attractive. I wanted to know what came first, the men wanting chicks to wear high heels or something else. It was an interesting question to look into. Many historians trace the high heels to male horse-riding warriors in the Middle East who used high heels for functionality, because they help hold the rider’s foot in stirrups. The earliest depiction of high heels occurs in the 9th-century CE, on a ceramic bowl from Persia. Actually, in the 16th century, European royalty started wearing high-heeled shoes to make them look taller or larger than life. By 1580, men also wore them, and a person with authority or wealth was often referred to as “well-heeled”.
Where did they become fashionable ?
In our contemporary society, high-heels are a important arsenal in women’s fashion as well as a sexual prop. Who doesn’t have a pair that are used only for sexy times ? According to research and common sense “high-heels force the body to tilt, emphasizing the buttocks and breasts, highlights of a woman’s sexuality.” They also emphasize the role of feet in sexuality, and the act of putting on stockings or high-heels is often seen as an erotic act.” Of course no one would discount this. But what I found interesting was the fact that there are class factors that lead to the high heel being a sexually evocative thing.
So while there were many precursors to the high heel but here is the moment of history where the high heel as fashion happened.
The formal invention of high heels as fashion is typically attributed to the rather short-statured Catherine de Medici (1519-1589). At the age of 14, Catherine de Medici was engaged to the powerful Duke of Orleans, later the King of France. She was small (not quite five feet) relative to the Duke and hardly considered a beauty. She felt insecure in the arranged marriage knowing she would be the Queen of the French Court and in competition with the Duke’s favorite (and significantly taller) mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Looking for a way to dazzle the French nation and compensate for her perceived lack of aesthetic appeal, she donned heels two inches high that gave her a more towering physique and an alluring sway when she walked. Her heels were a wild success and soon high heels were associated with privilege.
High Heels have a large class component to them still today. We talk about the shoes of female celebrities all the time. Every red carpet event is heavily scrutinized; shoes are always mentioned. It makes me think that its not just because men like them that women wear high heel shoes especially give the century of men wearing high heels themselves for archery and horse riding. For the past 400 years high heels have been ingrained in the mind as something female royalty or the well to do wear. Also they were used to enhance female feature that biological men are attracted to:
- change the angle of the foot with respect to the lower leg, which accentuates the appearance of calves;
- change the wearer’s posture, requiring a more upright carriage and altering the gait in what is considered a seductive fashion;
- make the wearer appear taller;
- make the legs appear longer;
- make the foot appear smaller;
- make the toes appear shorter;
- make the arches of the feet higher and better defined;
- offer practical benefits for people of short stature in terms of improving access and using items, e.g. sit upright with feet on floor instead of suspended, reach items on shelves, etc.
It interesting when you look at the historic origins of thing how much richer are the stories behind what we take for so common that we don’t really think about.
Check out my homeys response post to my initial article