The term “high heels” invariably evokes images of high-fashion women’s shoes, Sarah Jessica Parker walking down Manhattan Streets in Sex and the City, huge price tags, fabulous designers, and more. Are you aware, however, that there’s quite a lot more to the humble high heel than you ever thought you knew? Did you know that it was a low heel originally thought of as ‘trainer heels’ for instance?
Read on to learn some of the most amazing historical and current facts about high heels:
They Have More Than 4 Centuries of History
The history of the high heel goes way back to the late 1500s, where Persian and Ottoman soldiers used to use them as a way of steadying themselves as they performed archery on horseback. European leaders got their first look at this high-heeled footwear when Persian and Ottoman diplomats made their way into Europe during this period.
After gaining notice of these shoes in the late 1500s, attention grew in the early 1600s when Persian Shah Abbas I sent emissaries to Europe to gain support for his war against the Ottomans. They naturally caught the eye of the wealthy elite who dominated the continent and the royal courts of power at that time, becoming a more desirable item.
They Were Certainly Not for Women Originally
While the high heel may now be strongly associated with women’s footwear, it never started that way. In fact, quite the opposite was the case. As mentioned above, they were first used as military hardware. Later, they were adopted steadily by wealthy and powerful men in Europe as a way to boost their status (see further below).
Among the first women to wear high heels was Elizabeth I of England, who used them to raise her up and improve her stature (literally) in the still male-dominated halls of power in England and Europe. As a woman, she felt she had to do everything possible to compete.
King Louis XIV Boosted Their Popularity in Europe
While Elizabeth I was among the first monarchs to use the shoes, she was by no means the one who made them universally popular. That honour went to the French “Sun King,” Louis XIV. Despite being the most powerful monarch in Europe at the time (mid-17th century to early 18th century), he was rather small in stature at just 162cm (5ft 4in) in height. It was for this reason that he adopted high-heeled shoes and large wigs to make himself look taller and grander.
Louis XIV’s influence acted not just in the spheres of political and military matters, but also those of fashion, food, drink, and more. It wasn’t long, therefore, before other influential French aristocrats and European leaders were all adopting this new French style. He wasn’t the first to wear them, but he was perhaps the most important person to wear them.
“Stiletto” Means Dagger
Stiletto is now almost completely synonymous with very high-heeled shoes, not to mention some of the most expensive kinds of shoes around when they are made by the right designers. Did you know, however, that the word “stiletto” actually comes from an Italian word used commonly in the 1600s to refer to a very particular type of dagger. When you study the shape and style of a stiletto heel more closely, the nomenclature of the shoe design becomes quite clear and logical.
Heels Were Once a Status Symbol
While one might argue that this point hasn’t changed, there was a time when heel size was used as a firm and tangible status symbol. In Venice, there are records of heels measuring to ridiculous proportions — up to 50cm in height — among the richest merchants and notable citizenry. Why would anyone wear a heel like that? Well, having a 50cm heel meant you needed longer robes to cover it, hence you were rich enough to afford all that fabric. You were also wealthy enough to afford all the servants required to help you walk down the street!