High heels nowadays are one of the most important staples of many women’s wardrobes. For a long time, they have symbolized beauty and sexuality.
While there are certainly much more comfortable alternatives to the high heel, they still remain highly popular among many women. High heels are also considered to be symbols of high fashion.
Christian Louboutin, for example, immortalized the red-soled high heels. But these shoes have a very long history of their own, and were not even necessarily intended for women.
Ancient History & Origin of High Heels
Some of the earliest depictions of high heels were shown in Ancient Egypt, around approximately 3500 B.C. On these depictions, heels were depicted on nobility in Egypt which would distinguish them from the lower classes, who typically went barefoot.
In Ancient Egypt, both men and women wore heels for ceremonial purposes. They also were used by butchers so that they could walk over the bloody bodies of the animals without getting anything on their bare feet.
These forms of heels were created with leather that was laced in a way which formed the Egyptian symbol for life. High heels were also used in Ancient Rome and Greece. Many actors wore heels to show the different social classes and importance of every character they represented in Ancient Greece.
Since the sex trade was legal in Ancient Rome, many prostitutes wore heels to distinguish themselves so that their potential clients would see that they were prostitutes. Thus, many people began to consider high heels to be a symbol of prostitution.
High Heels in the Middle Ages
During Medieval times, men and women both wore shoes with heels so that their feet were not exposed to all of the trash and excrement that filled the streets.
A new type of heel was created in approximately the Middle Ages called the Chopine. These shoes were about 30 inches tall and greatly restricted the wearer’s ability to walk.
Anyone who wore them either had to use a cane or servants. These shoes were created solely for women, and many people believed that men created these to make women immobile, so that they could not go about having love affairs.
Back in the Middle Ages, members of the Persian cavalry in modern-day Iran wore boots that had heels on them to help their feet stay in the stirrups. When their feet were more stable in the stirrups, it helped the cavalry members to shoot their arrows more accurately.
When the Persian shah sent a diplomatic mission to Europe, many Western Europeans became fascinated with the heels that they were wearing. These heels were very masculine and symbolized nobility.
Such extravagant shoes were too expensive for many people of the lower classes. After a while, these heels became so popular that members of the lower classes began wearing them as well, so in response, members of the aristocracy began to wear higher heels.
European streets were cobbled, therefore it made it almost impossible to walk on these streets wearing such shoes. But this was the whole idea, these heels and other perhaps unexplainable accessories were used to symbolize the very luxurious lifestyles that privileged men lived in those days.
King Louis XIV of France, much like Christian Louboutin many centuries later, colored his heels red, since that was an expensive dye at the time. He was of short stature- approximately 5 feet 4 inches- and used heels to make himself appear taller, since height has always been associated with power.
He also issued a law that stated that only members of the royal court were allowed to wear red heels, to show how prestigious and high class they were. Both men and women wore heels, but the heels women wore were skinnier in width.
Origin of High Heel For Women
Women began to wear heels more often beginning in 1533. Women wanted to make their legs look longer, and therefore they began to wear heels.
Catherine de Medici is credited with perhaps beginning the trend, as she was rather small in stature. She chose to wear heels that were two inches in height so that she could distinguish herself from her husband’s mistress, who was seen as more beautiful and taller than she was.
Another female royal who used heels to make her appear taller was Mary Tudor. Many people caught on to the style and heels began to be further associated with wealth and privilege.
Then, the ideas of the Enlightenment caught on. The Enlightenment promoted ideals such as logic, science, and nature. After the Enlightenment became popular throughout Europe, men began to dress much more sensibly and casually, therefore they gradually stopped wearing high heels.
By around 1740, men entirely ceased wearing high heels, and the shoes began to be recognized as a product for women. Since women were seen as being silly and vapid, the heel began to be associated with femininity instead of masculinity as it once was.
The heel also gradually began to be associated with women due to the fact that many women who were part of the courts copied their male counterparts. Some women in the 15th to 17th centuries even wore heels that were up to eighteen inches in height, and they were composed of wood, cork, or metal.
These women either used male servants to prop her up or they had a man escort them, since wearing such heels made it nearly impossible to walk.
High Heels for Women
Around the eighteenth century, high heels began to go out of fashion. The shoe was considered to be a divider of classes, and distinguished those who were of higher classes from those who were of lower classes.
Since the 18th century was dominated by political revolutions against royalty, heels thus began to be looked down upon. After around the Victorian and Edwardian eras, the shoes were considered to be impractical, and since that was a term generally associated with women, men ceased to wear the shoes.
The very first company which manufactured high heels was opened in New York in 1888. Once again, women of higher classes began to wear heels, since it was popular again to present oneself as a member of the high class.
During the 20th century, the two world wars allowed for more international relations and cooperation between nations. Thus, many people all across the world were exposed to posters and photographs in which women were wearing heels. This caused heels to become popular worldwide.
Some of the more popular examples of heels included brown and white pumps with cutouts in them or shoes with a peep toe and ankle straps. Many women desired to wear these shoes since they symbolized both practicality and professionalism.
Pin-ups also became popular during the Second World War, and in almost all pin-up posters, women were depicted wearing high heels. This furthered the notion that high heels symbolized sexuality.
In 1950, tall and skinny stilettos were invented, which were associated once again with sexuality. Women began to wear what are called nowadays kitten heels in the 1960s. Since these shoes have a very short heel, women wore these shoes around the house to do household chores.
Heels began to get thicker in the 1970s, as dancing became more and more popular, and a shoe was needed that was both pleasant in appearance but also practical to dance in.
High Heels Used For Sexuality
Heels are highly associated with sexuality, even until now. In Playboy, or other magazines and porn videos where women appear nude, they are almost always wearing high heels.
Studies have shown that the higher a heel is, the more likely a man will pay attention to a woman, and therefore further increasing their association with sex. Since a woman’s back arches when she wears heels, this makes both her breasts and buttocks appear larger.
All throughout history, heels have been associated with promiscuity and sex, because of the fact that prostitutes historically wore heels to distinguish themselves. And still today, heels are used as a sex symbol.
Despite the fact that high heels can cause a lot of pain and blisters, and can potentially damage the wearer’s feet, many women still prefer to wear them. Due to the fact that high heels have historically sexualized women, some people wonder whether or not heels empower or oppress women.
Some protests have occurred throughout history where women ditched their heels, and others have occurred where women chose to wear heels.
They also symbolize professionalism. Many women wear heels in professional settings and as part of their workplace uniform. They also can help symbolize wealth, as many high heels are very expensive.
For example, Christian Louboutin’s classic red-soled heels are almost 700 dollars. This can be used as a reason as to why heels can actually help empower women; women feel professional and classy while wearing the shoes.
Overall, heels have a very long history, and despite being associated with men until a few centuries ago, are now considered a strong symbol of femininity.
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