Today heels are an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe, but where did they come from originally and why were they invented? In this blog we’ll have a look at the history of heels.
The first documented use of high heels is from Ancient Egypt, where depictions of in murals date back to 3500 B.C.. From these murals it appears heels worn by both men and women and were a status symbol, separating the higher classes from the barefoot workers. They were also worn by butchers to raise them above the mess of the slaughterhouse floor.
Ancient Rome and Greece
Platform sandals with cork soles were worn by actors in Ancient Greece and in Ancient Rome high heels were used to identify those within the sex trade, and became associated with prostitution.
Huge wooden high heeled shoes with heights up to 18 inches were common by the 1400s and were worn by prostitutes in Venice. They became popular amongst the aristocrats of Italy and the Ottoman Empire, who didn’t need to work, or walk.
The First Heels
The first documented high heels in Europe belonged to Queen Elizabeth I of England, who was painted wearing a pair. In the book “Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d,” historian Jane Arnold describes the monarch’s shoes as “a payre of spanyse lether shoes with highe heels and arches.” It is believed they were strappy high heels known as latchlets.
Men and Women’s styles
Men and women’s shoe styles were almost identical until the mid 17th Century when men’s shoes started to become more practical and women’s hoes started to become more ornate, with fantastic use of silks, braids and embroidery.
The French king (1638-1715) was famed for his red heeled shoes. They were a status symbol in a time when red dyes were expensive and they also helped this king, standing at 5”4′ stand taller. He ruled that only members of his court could wear shoes with red heels in the 1670s. I wonder where Christian Louboutin got his idea from?
The European Enlightenment
From Louie XIV’s death until the French Revolution in 1789 is the period known as the enlightenment, when a period of philosophical change swept Europe. During this period, heels became unfashionable and by 1740 they were seen as impractical and foolish and men had stopped wearing them. After the French revolution they became unpopular with women too, perhaps as they were associated with royalty and the aristocrats, and nearly all women’s styles of shoes were flats.
The Return of The Heel
By the mid 19th Century heels started to creep back into fashion with half inch heels reappearing by 1840 and brass 2 and a half inch heels had appeared by 1860. Around mid 19th Century French pornographers started photographing women in high heels, and this is where the idea that heels are sexy are said to have originated from.
In 1953, a designer at Christian Dior, Roger Vivier invented a new style of high heel using new plastic technology called the stiletto. This became the fashion icon that we know today. The style has gone in and out of fashion, but keeps making a reappearance as new generations discover the slender heeled shoe style.