Fashion History: High Heels for… Him?

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Stilettos, Pumps and Platforms…

They’re so commonly seen on women’s feet today that we never think to wonder who invented these painfully-pointy shoes.  Or for whom they were invented.

So what if I told you the first high heels were designed for men over 1,000 years ago?  Picture this: an ancient warrior galloping along on horseback, and he stands up in his stirrups to deal a deadly blow or fire off an arrow from his bow.  Lets face it: it would be pretty embarrasing to fall off your horse while lopping off enemy heads.  Those Persian riders found that a split-heeled shoe kept their feet firmly planted in the stirrups while riding.  At that point in time, the heels were not terribly tall – maybe an inch – and the original concept was based around practicality, not appearance.

Flash-forward to 1599 and the Persians we’re invading again… diplomatically.  Representatives had been sent forth to Europe by the Persian Shah to woo Western leaders into alliances, and this sparked an interest in Persian culture by men with money to spare.  Western aristocrats began incorporating the Eastern high heeled shoes into their daily wear, as an obvious symbol of status and wealth.  These heels were completely impractical for hard labor tasks, ensuring the footwear kept their owners visibly divided from the unwashed masses of the working class.

Over the following century, women of status began adopting high heeled shoes.  And then, the unthinkable happened: average, middle-class people began wearing high heels too.  Oh, the disgrace!  A race to the stars resulted, with taller and taller heels designed to look down upon women and those who couldn’t afford the latest, tallest shoes.


French King Louis the 14th, being the aloof aristocrat he was, took exception to the watering-down of status symbols.  And so he set out to make things right with rules and laws governing fashion in the French empire.  Among his many un-noble deeds was the decree that only aristocracy should wear heeled shoes.  But that didn’t work out well, so Louis took to wearing shoes with the heels painted red and allowing only members of his court to wear red-heels as well.  Just to be sure he stood above the crowd, nobody was allowed to wear heels taller than his own.

If all this rule-setting centered around high fashion sounds like of a king out of touch with the needs of his people – as well as a desperate plan to hold on to power – it was.  The long dynasty of French kings was soon coming to an end, and a few generations later King Louis the 16th was removed from office during the French Revolution.  Not to mention, his head was removed from his body.  “Vive le France!” may have been the new catchphrase, but Vive La High Heels was overthrown as well while revolutionary Europe focused on more pressing issues and a return to simplicity.  Emperor Napoleon recognized high heels as a symbol of decadence and banned them in the interests of maintaining equality among the masses.  As a result, fancy footwear virtually vanished overnight.

It wasn’t until late in the 1800’s that high heels made a big comeback.  But at that point they were now seen as women’s shoes only, and never regained their full glory among men.  Or… did they?  Think about it:  Those 9th Century Perisan shoes for warriors never went way, we just call them “Cowboy Boots” now.  And what about those men’s dress shoes with an elevated design?  Sorry guys, but you’ve been wearing high heels to work all along.  Guess that means you have something to chat with the girls at the office about on lunch break tomorrow.

Onward and upward,

Jim Jurica, BeautyLook Editor

Photos:  Bata Shoe Museum –