The History Of High Heels (Or, “How We Learned To Love The High Heel”)

History of high heel shoesAny woman who has ever had to walk in painful high heels has probably wondered why they had to wear them in the first place. I know for a fact that I’ve wondered who invented high heels. For a while, I earnestly believed that it was a medieval torture device that women just had to wear because, well, the world likes to see us in pain. Or something. So, if you have ever wondered who created heels, and why they were originally worn, you’re not alone. And, you’re about to find out.

Ancient Ankle Breakers

It seems like high heels go back to the days of ancient Egypt, since there have been murals depicting pharaohs and queens wearing high heeled footwear found in pyramids. In ancient Rome as well as ancient Greece, it was common for people to wear shoes with cork platforms as a way of indicating social status. Oddly enough, Roman prostitutes were also readily visible by their unusually high heels. In fact, Roman prostitutes often got crafty, and would carve out advertisements on the soles of their high heels in order to get clients to follow them back to their bordello.

The Middle Ages And Renaissance Periods: Utility To Futility

The Middle Ages was a time when you would see people wearing platform shoes that were actually based on a real need – to keep your feet out of mud. These elevated platform heels were only 1 to 2 inches high, making them the equivalent of a modern sneaker. By the 9th century, footmen who rode horses would wear high heels in order to ride their steed without having their foot leave the stirrups.

Sometime around the 14th century, the trend of wearing chopines, also known as the precursor to the ridiculously high disco platform shoes of the 70’s, became popular in Turkey. This trend spread to women of Europe throughout the Renaissance, and if you thought that your heels were too high, you should have seen the nightmarish heights of chopines! These massive heels would be anywhere from 7 to 30 inches in height. (That’s right. Not centimeters. Inches.) This trend was mostly done as a way to make sure that women didn’t sneak away with lovers. After all, if you are wearing shoes that are basically stilts, you are going to need help moving around, and you are not going to be able to sneak around anywhere. These went out of style throughout Europe by the 1500’s, presumably after at least a thousand women died by breaking their necks instead of their ankles.

Later On

Shoes in the 18th century were more commonly made for utility purposes, and by that time, more emphasis was being placed on the clothing that one wore, the manners that one had, as well as the connections that one’s family had. Since then, most high heeled shoes did not exceed more than 2 to 3 inches for women, or 1 to 2 inches for men, or at least that was the case up until the 20th century. Still, heels have persisted through the centuries, and ended up becoming a status symbol for both women and men at different points in history. It’s a known fact that political figures and sovereigns often wore heels in order to seem taller, more imposing, or more powerful to their courts. 

The 20th century made heels readily available for women of almost any social strata to *ahem* enjoy. Now, women wear heels to work (ouch), on runways (ever seen a model slip and fall?), or on nights out with the girls (which often involves taking off one’s shoes in order to dance). Alright, admittedly, heels can make a girl’s legs look AWESOME, and some heels are actually comfortable. Thank the fashion gods for their ability to make shoes that are comfortable at 4 inches in height!

facebook comments:

About the Author

Ossiana Tepfenhart
Ossiana Tepfenhart is a professional author who has ghostwritten over 10 books in her lifetime. When she isn't typing furiously at a keyboard, she is modeling, adventuring, or just making a mess of things.