The Origin of the High Heeled Shoe

  • Uncategorized

TheOrigin of the High Heeled Shoe

Ahigh heeled shoe is a type of footwear that raises the foot’s rearside of the person wearing it to appear higher compared to the toes.The desire to explore more about the origin of the high heel leavesthree main questions. What is the history of the shoe? How did theshoe evolve in terms of style and functional values? And, what socialmeanings or believes are associated with the shoe? By answering thesequestions, the discussion will explore the origin of the high heeledshoe to illustrate that it has a rich history if well understood.

Theorigin of the high heel shoe dates back to 1000 BC. It is believedthat the very first pair of heels stiletto, originated in ancientEgypt around 1000 BC (Benstock &amp Ferris 10). This fact wasevidenced by the discovery of a pair of stiletto in a tomb of asignificant historical Egyptian individual known as Tibas (Benstock &ampFerris 10). Tibas existed in ancient Egypt and historical documentsshowed that the individual lived around 1000 BC. In addition, muralsor wall painting also indicated drawings of similar high heels thatwere originally worn by aristocrats that dated back to around 3500BC(Benstock &amp Ferris 10). However, it is important to note thathistorically during this period, both sexes were believed to bewearers of high heeled shoes.

Stillin ancient Egypt, high heels were also commonly worn by individualswhose work involved slaughtering animals. It is important to notethat this job was commonly reserved for men and the high heel rosethe butcher’s feet higher enough from the dripping of blood. Hence,the high heeled shoe was also used as a functional tool thatprotected the butcher’s feet. In addition, high heels were used asa means to distinguish noble individuals from common people, usuallylower class. In fact, the lower class during ancient Egypt walkedbare foot (Benstock &amp Ferris 12).

Thereis a rich history for instance, in Greece around 200 AD there waspopularity in theatrical works and productions. The high heeled shoeswere mostly worn by these individuals who were the drivers of theaterproduction. One significant individual is identified as Esquilo was asignificant theater producer during 200AD (Womming 123). Habitually,this individual normally insisted on dressing all his actors in highheeled shoes but they normally varied in height length. Duringacting, each actor represented a certain character with a distinctsocial class. Therefore, the varied heights of those high heels wereused as distinguishing different social classes between these actors.However, unlike ancient Egypt, Greek had a particular name for thatparticular high heel, which was Kothorni. These Greek Kothorni highheels were mainly made of wooden heels or high cork (Womming 123).

Thefunctional value of the high heeled shoe was different in ancientRome as compared to ancient Egypt and Greek. This is because duringthe same period of 200 AD, the high heeled shoe was a familiar symbolin the sex industry (Small 15). This means that the high heeled shoewas commonly and mainly worn by the prostitutes working in the sexindustry. Therefore, it was very easy for prospective clients toidentify a prostitute by the type of shoe worn (Small 15). However,it is worth noting that there were no legal restrictions that barredwomen and men from prostituting. Prostituting in the sex industryduring that time was legal and that made the high heeled shoe popularin this industry. The high heeled shoe was therefore used as a toolof communication between professional prostitutes and potentialclients.

Duringthe 15thcentury, the landscape of shoe as changed significantly after thediscovery of a certain type of high heel identified as Chopine(Benstock &amp Ferris 33). This type of high heeled shoe wasdiscovered and invented in Turkey. Its popularity of this type ofshoe grew rapidly across Europe and actually remained relevant in thenext two hundred years. However, one of the most surprisingattributes of this type of high heel was its height. It had a heightgoing to about 30 inches long and the wearers were forced to carrythe support of a cane, in order to be able to walk in them (Benstock&amp Ferris 33). The main functional value of this type of high heelwas its fashion sense. It indicated a sense of fashion towards manywomen who were embracing change during that period.

Inaddition to social fashion sense, the Chopine was a high indicator ofsocial status among women of varying classes. In this case, theChopin shoe was designed with gold laces, embroidery and an intricateleather design. There was flexibility during the 15thcentury with how the high heel was designed as many women couldcustomize their own design by laying out their own distinct design(Benstock &amp Ferris 34).

Theflexibility allowed many women to choose their preferred type ofmaterials as well as the overall design. Hence, the high heeled shoechanged the landscape of fashion whereby fashion lovers who weremainly women could input their own intrinsic fashion andindividualism. At the same period, many male spouses preferred theirwomen to wear these high heels as it was commonly believed to impedethem from roaming about as it could lead to contact with other men(Benstock &amp Ferris 35).

Duringthe 16thcentury in France, both men and women wore the high heeled shoe toindicate their upper class status. During this period, the idea ofwearing high heeled shoe was initiated by a lady known as Catherinede Medici (Mitchell 16). This lady wore a high heeled shoe during herwedding to the Duke of Orleans, a prospectus future king then. Thiswas a significant figure in France as she was the Queen of France andher love for the high heeled shoe heightened its recognition. Duringher wedding to her husband, Catherine was only fourteen years old andwanted to appear taller than she really was and at the same time,wanted to astound the French Court (Mitchell 16).

Afterthis very significant event in France, the high heeled shoe became apopular fashion statement in the world of fashion. Therefore, mostfashion houses in Paris had high regard for the high heeled shoe(Mitchell 16). However, it was not anybody that could wear this typeof shoe as it was reserved to certain individuals belonging tocertain social class. Therefore, the high heeled shoe was a commonand popular sight in the French Court and for most wealthy men andwomen in France.

Eventually,the high heeled shoe spread to other significant individuals inFrance, who were considered to be from noble families (Mitchell 17).Hence, in France the high heeled shoe was a strong symbol thatindicated the most powerful and rich. It was an effectivedistinguishing tool between the lower class and the upper class.

Itis well known that in England, Queen Mary I routinely wore highheeled shoes in 1553 (Finnan 45). She was regarded as a powerfulindividual across political and social divides and therefore, she isaccredited to the popularity of the high heeled shoe in England amongboth sexes. It is also worth noting that it was around 1553, when thehigh heeled shoe spread and became popular in Spain and Italy (Finnan45). Accordingly, in these both countries, both women and men woreheels as high as 23 inches and normally made of cork or wood.

However,it was during this period that the high heeled shoe was consideredcloser to the type of high heels that exist today (Finnan 45). Inthis regard, the design of high heel was not a well thought out planthat was to be executed during construction. Contrary, it is widelybelieved that the design of high heel was a as a result of anaccident or try and error. Such accidents normally mainly transpiredduring the processes of repairing of the heel.

Duringthe 16thcentury there was a popularity of riding boots among men. However,the popularity and growth of the high heeled shoes overtook theriding boots by men (Wonning 130). High heeled riding boots were apreferred choice by most men because they tended to prevent slippageespecially when one was using stirrups. Over the subsequent years theoriginal design of the high heeled shoe started changing and becamethinner and lighter (Wonning 130). All these attributes were aimed todistinguish the upper class from the lower class.

Theperceptions of high heeled shoes started changing in the 17thcentury among the English Parliament. They discouraged women fromwearing high heeled shoes as it was considered an enticement of mentowards marriage (Wonning 133). For this reason, the Englishparliament passed laws that discouraged and disbanded women fromwearing high heeled shoes.

Consequently,any women who were found wearing a high heeled shoe was often takento court for tried for being witches and consequently punished.Events such as these contributed heavily to gradual collapse of thepopularity of high heel especially in the fashion industry. Forinstance, during the same period Massachusetts Colony passed harshlaws that strictly prohibited women from wearing high heels (Wonning133). This means that the high heeled shoe remained a reserve for menin the 17thcentury.

In17thcentury, the most famous shoe maker in Europe by the name NicholasLestage was appointed to be making high heeled shoes for Louis XIV(Finnan 48). Upon appointment, he was acclaimed for making shoes forLouis XIV that were as high as five inches. These shoes were normallydistinguishable from the rest because, Lestage decorated them withcomplex patterns that mostly depicted battle scenes. At the sameperiod, Louis XIV ultimately declared that no one was allowed to wearhigh heeled shoes that were higher than his (Finnan 48).Additionally, only nobility were allowed to wear high heeled shoesthat were red in color.

Itis during this period that the high heeled shoe became mostoutstanding in design and style. This is because the shoes weremainly ornamented and decorated with customized styles (Finnan 48).In addition, the heels were seen to be slimmer and higher than theheels worn in previous periods. The high heels bearing this new stylewere hence used as a symbol that represented a feminine court style.Many women were forced to reduce the size of their own feet to makethe heels appear as if sculptured in the body (Finnan 48).

However,in the 18thcentury during the rise of Napoleon, the high heeled shoe along withthe newly acquired style of Louis XIV went away through the FrenchRevolution. But they were quickly brought back by Louis XIV’smistress known as Madame de Pompadour introduced a new set of highheeled shoes that were narrower and slender (Finnan 51). These shoeswere commonly knosn as “Pompadour heels” and they became apopular fashion statement among the wealthy and noble in that period(Finnan 51).

However,because of its stratifying function among the people, Napoleonintroduced and enforced a harsh Napoleonic Code that was aimed atbringing equality among people (Finnan 51). Consequently, this led tothe reduction on the heights of heels to as low as two inchesmaximum. Such harsh laws saw the development of controversy inAmerica especially after they were completely banned inMassachusetts.

The19thcentury saw the re-introduction of the high heeled shoe but this timewith a wide variety of designs into vogue (Small 44). This was as aresult of technological development that made processing andmanufacturing easier and in this case, the sewing machine. The highheeled shoe was reinstated back to the women since Victoriansassociated the shoe with a woman’s curve (Small 44). However,during this period the high heeled shoe took another divisional roleamong the societies existing during that period. It was consideredvery aristocratic and European by the wearers of the high heel whileon the other hand the African Americans did not incorporate an instepat all.

Thisperiod saw many women try to make their feet appear smaller asdepicted in the Victorian literature as well as art. Fashion loversloathed big feet as it was considered to belong to the spinsters andthe elderly, hence unattractive (Small 45). The high heeled shoehelped create an allusion of smaller feet among the wearers.

Thepopularity was sparked in England and across Europe by Queen Victoriaafter she wore her very first high heeled boots for women (Small 46).The high heeled shoe became more widespread and popular by mid 19thcentury with the first opening of a high heel factory in America.Other part of the world including the rest of Europe was stillemulating the high heel fashion of France. This brought about gradualchange in attitude and perceptions of the high heel and thatcontributed to America lagging behind in the fashion sense ascompared to her counterparts in Europe.

In20thcentury the demand of high heeled shoe went down as a result of morepeople preferring comfortable footwear (Small 47). However, eleganthigh heels were later introduced by and influenced by Ginger Rogers.This type of high heel was seen to be moderately high and widebecause The Great Depression and hence, low suppliers. Later in1950’s, renowned designers such as Roger Vivier collaborated withChristian Dior and introduced a new styled shoe that incorporated alow cut vamp bearing a stiletto heel. That was followed by manyexaggerations of the stiletto where there was tempering of theslender blade that made the shoe thin, narrowing towards the toe(Small 49).

Todayhigh heeled shoes have been developed into a variety of design givingmany women wide choices. They are mainly worn for fashion, pleasure,fun and are known to offer women a sense of fashion, height, powerand authority. The 21stcentury has been ushered by international designers such as JimmyChoo who have introduced very high heels as is unveiled on runwayfashion events each year (Small 60).

Inconclusion, the history of the high heeled shoe shows that thefootwear had had a rich history. The shoes have had rich diversesymbolisms throughout history and were used as tools ofdifferentiation between different sexes and social classes. Indifferent regions and civilizations, the shoes represented a moresophisticated social class. in general, women wearing high heeledshoes were regarded to be more elegant judging from their standingpositions. This means that high heeled shoe has had functional valueover the centuries and has been used as an indicator for certainsocial class.


BenstockS., Ferris S. Footnotes:On Shoes.New York. Rutgers University Press. 2001. Print.

DemalloM. Feetand Footwear: A Cultural Encyclopedia.New York. ABC-CLIO Publishing. 2009. Print

FinnanK. Mummy’sHigh heeled shoes.New York. Mummy’s Workshop Books. 2008. Print.

SmallL. KillerHeels: The Art of High Heeled Shoe.London. Prestel Verlag. 2014. Print.

MitchellT.J. HighHeeled Shoes That Kill Like Hell.New York. Author House. 2014. Print.

WonningR. P. AShort History of Transportation: Traveling Methods.New York Routledge Publishing. 2015. Print

Close Menu