High Heels in History and Society

The First High Heeled Shoes

It's the 21st Century and seeing women wear heels is not a big thing, but neither was it during the time of the Ancient Egyptians! Yes, high-heeled shoes were already worn centuries ago. They were worn by the upper class, usually. Why? It's mostly the same reason that an office worker wears heels while a fireman/woman doesn't. It depends on the job. The upper class don't run around and do hard labor. They were "above" everyone; ergo, footwear that actualized their elevated status was used.

Murals dating from around 3500 BC showed both male and female Egyptians wearing footwear with elevated heels for ceremonies and rituals. Early records on Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece show actors who wore shoes with cork soles to symbolize the height (ahem, social status) of the different characters they portrayed. Medieval times also saw both men and women wearing pattens or wooden soles attached to their sandals to elevate them. This made their actual shoes relatively cleaner after wading through the dirty streets.

Riding Footwear

According to Elizabeth Semmelhack of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, heels, though, were used as riding footwear. Persia (now Iran) saw soldiers atop riders wearing high heeled shoes that made it easier for them to ride while using their weapons.

Shah Abbas of Persia had the largest cavalry in the world. Before the 17th century began, he started establishing connections and relations with ruling families in the Western world in order to defeat the Ottoman Empire.

Shah Abbas sent his soldiers and ambassadors around Europe. This introduced the high heeled footwear to Russia, Spain, France, and other monarchies. Since then, the high heels have come to symbolize elite standing in society.

Status Quo Heels

Many sources say that the one who started wearing high heels as fashion was Catherine de Medici on her wedding day. Her groom was Henry II, future King of France. Catherine was 14 years old and shorter than five feet. She improvised. A cobbler made a 2-inch high heeled-shoe for her, and the rest of France followed the rage.

King Louis XIV was very fond of high heels, especially those that were around 5 inches tall. Someone who decreed himself the Sun King also went to decree that no one's heels should be higher than his and that only the nobles could wear red-colored high heeled-shoes. Because of the high heels' intricate and delicate details, many artists and writers often associated them with femininity and sex appeal. The Puritans apparently thought more of the latter, and banned women from wearing them.

King Louis XIV in red heels
King Louis XIV in red heels

High Heels in Fashion

Throughout history, the wearing of high heels ebbed and flowed. Napoleon Bonaparte pretty much banned the high heels to promote equality, since the heels symbolized the disparity in social classes. With the invention of the sewing machine in the 1800's, however, women started wearing high heels to match new clothes again. Fashion became vastly important. During the early 20th Century, however, it ebbed, but then flowed during the 20's! Famous designers Christian Dior and Roger Vivier introduced to the world the stiletto (Italian for 'dagger'), the more slender counterpart to the high heels that were worn before. Hollywood stars and fashion icons wore high heels and emphasized edgy pleasure and sex appeal. Much criticism from many groups, including feminist movements, didn't stop people from wearing high heeled-shoes, though.

From the 50's, 60's, until the 90's, high heeled-shoes have been worn by women, owning and claiming the footwear. The comment that heels were a man's invention no longer bothered anyone. Feminists who used this attack often encountered people who were of the opinion that wearing the heels did not make women weak-willed or submissive to a man's world. There is the phrase, "Use their own weapons against them", after all. Whatever the reason for wearing high heels, many people still use them to give off an atmosphere: a sophisticated, professional, and serious personality.

Personally, I'm not fond of wearing heels but I salute those who can kick ass in them dagger shoes.

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