The Fascinating History of High Heels: From Men’s Footwear to Fashion Icon

High heels are an iconic part of women’s fashion, often associated with couture, glamour, and femininity. Believed to have been around for centuries, the shape, size and style of the heel has changed dramatically over time. Here, we are taking a look at the fascinating history of high heels – from their origins as men’s footwear to the trend-setting fashion statement we all recognize today.

High Heels in Ancient History

The history of high heels dates back thousands of years. The earliest recorded evidence of men wearing high heels were found to be Persian soldiers in the 9th century BC, who wore heels to help them stay firmly in their stirrups when riding horses. This was then adapted by European aristocrats of the 16th – 18th centuries, with boots that were pointed and fastened at the knee to make them appear more fashionable.

Potential Rise from the Venice Court

One of the most widely discussed theories about the origin of high heels is that they first came from the Venice court about the time of Catherine de Medici the 16th-century French queen (1519-1589). Supposedly, she was a short woman who wanted to appear taller, and so for the court at the time, high heels became a symbol of wealth and status.

From Men to Women

The use of high heels as fashion statement was not exclusive to men until well into the 19th century when heels were seen on women as well. Again, the main purpose was to make women look taller and more elegant – and while the heel heights ranged from a few inches, it was around this time that the tradition ‘no man can be taller than his woman’ was derived. High heels then began to be considered a symbol of gender difference and female grace and power.

Victorian to Present Day

In the Victorian era, women began to wear higher heeled boots of up to 7”. It was around this time that the term ‘stiletto heel’ was coined – the 6” to 8” heeled boot resembling a stiletto knife. As modern materials developed, so too did the range of heel heights, shapes, and types; and in the twentieth century, shoe designers began to experiment more and more with the design of the heel to match the changing trends of the time.

Iconic High Heels

Through the decades, some of the most iconic high heels have been seen on the silver screen and in some of the most memorable fashion moments. The most iconic of all probably being the ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz, which although weren’t particularly high, they were the first pair of high heels to appear on screen.

Other icons include the barely-there sandals from the ‘Sex and the City’, famously seen on Carrie Bradshaw, or the Mary Janes Brooke Shields sported in the film ‘Pretty Baby’; and of course, Princess Diana’s William Chambers wedding shoes, as featured in her famous wedding to Prince Charles.

High Heels in Popular Culture

High heels have long been a staple in popular culture, from the power heels of Samantha Jones on ‘Sex and the City’ or the character of Mrs. Robinson in ‘The Graduate’, who swooned over the younger man in her very high heeled sandals.

Perhaps one of the most influential roles high heels have played in popular culture is in the music industry, whether you’re looking at Lady Gaga’s more theatrical designs or the more conventional embellished high heels seen in the productions of artists such as Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and Rihanna.

High Heel Wearing Tips

High heels are a fashion statement, not only because they look good, but because they make the wearer feel good too. However, wearing heels can be tricky, as finding a balance between how they look and how comfortable they are to wear can be a tricky task. Here, we have provided a few tips for wearing heel comfortably:

-Choose the right shoes for the occasion and the activity. Don’t spend all night in stilettos if you’ll be dancing, for example. Wedge sandals and mid-heel pumps are preferable for events where you’ll be on your feet for a while.

-Choose the right height for your feet. 4-5 inches is usually considered to be fairly comfortable for most women, but if you’re new to wearing heels try starting lower in the 2-3” range until you get used to it.

-Stay on top of your footcare. Make sure to keep your feet healthy, moisturized, and well taken care of.

-If your toes start to hurt, take a break. Take your shoes off and alternate between standing and resting, especially if you’ll be wearing them for a while.

From their beginnings centuries ago as an item of clothing worn by Persian military men to their modern-day incarnation as a vital part of the female wardrobe, high heels have gone through a number of transformations over the years. From iconic movie heels to fashion-forward footwear, high heels have held a place in history as a symbol of grace and power, as well as a defining feature of femininity and style. Now, as long as you take a few sensible steps to maintain your feet, you too can enjoy a pair of high heels for yourself!