Today, high-heeled shoes is a staple item in women’s fashion. Our hearts beat with joy when we get to wear beautiful high heels to an event or dinner date. We browse and buy more shoes even though we have more than enough at home. One could assume that women were the first to wear high heels, but no. Centuries ago, men wore them first.
In the 10th century, heeled shoes were functional and worn by men. In Persia, horseback riders preferred to wear heeled shoes that anchored well in stirrups. Why? Because heels allowed a passenger to better balance his weight while safely maneuvering his weapons and body.
“Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, traces their [heels] history to Persian men in the 10th century, who wore heels while on horseback so their feet would fit better in the stirrups.” Today.com, The surprisingly functional reason high heels were invented.
Persian men might have been the first to use heeled shoes for practical purposes, but high shoes appeared earlier in ancient cultures.
In ancient Egypt, drawings (dated 3500 B.C.) depict nobility wearing heels to project status and wealth. Ordinary people most often were portrayed bare feet. In ancient Greece, high platform shoes were used during on-stage performance to create a well-rounded costume. In ancient Rome, street women were getting men’s attention wearing elevated platforms. (Study.com, Who invented high heels)
High Heels Spread to Europe
Persian delegations introduced heeled shoes into European fashion. King Louis XIV of France became an avid fan of heeled shoes. He was short, and the four-inch heels gave him the needed edge. His passion for high-heeled red shoes cemented heels status with nobility men. Gentlemen wore heeled shoes to signify wealth and power. Yet only the selected few were allowed to wear red heeled shoes.
“In the forefront was King Louis XIV of France, who wore high heels initially around the age of 20, continuing to around the age of 60 … The red soles and four inch red heels of the King’s shoes represented his power, wealth and high society status.” Study.com, Who invented high heels.
What did women wear?
Women wore uncomfortable high platform shoes made with wood and cork. The height of shoes signified status and wealth. How? Women’s shoes were hidden under long skirts or dresses, high platforms required longer skirts (more material to be used), thus symbolizing one’s wealth.
High platform shoes had a few severe flaws: they were uncomfortable, hard to walk in, and even dangerous. Women were known to trip and fall.
In the 17th century, a new trend was emerging in women’s fashion. Fashion-forward ladies were borrowing men’s clothes and accessories to make their looks more masculine. High heels were one of the items that women borrowed. For a few years, men and women wore high heel shoes.
At the end of the 18th century, high heels were recognized as solely women’s footwear. Men started to wear flat shoes.
Some attribute this change to the enlightenment era that portrayed men as more practical and rational compared to irrational and emotional women. High heels were uncomfortable and not functional, thus not suited for men to wear. Gentlemen shifted away from ornate, highly decorated clothing to monochrome attire pairing it with flat shoes. (QZ.com,
High heel shoes made a significant transformation over the centuries. Nowadays, shoes are made of leather, textiles, rubber, and foam. There are endless style possibilities, whether you like smaller heels or stilettos. And every woman can find shoes that fit her lifestyle and budget.
When it comes to men, they have mostly abandoned heels except for cowboy boots and dress shoes.
But who knows what comes next; fashion tends to repeat itself ;)