Monday, January 12, 2009

1533: first high-heeled shoes

While high heels today are mostly associated with women's shoes, many shoe designs worn by both genders have elevated heels, including cowboy boots and cuban heels.

Raised heels may have been a response to the problem of a horse rider's foot slipping forward in stirrups. The "rider's heel," about 1-1/2" high, appeared around 1500. The leading edge was canted forward to help grip the stirrup, and the trailing edge was canted forward to prevent the elongated heel from catching on underbrush or rock while backing up, such as in on-foot combat. These features are evident today in riding boots, notably cowboy boots.

In 1533, Catherine de Medici, the diminutive wife of the Duke of Orleans, commissioned a cobbler to fashion her a pair of heels, both for fashion, and to increase her stature. They were an adaptation of chopines (elevated wooden soles with both heel and toe raised not unlike modern platform shoes), but unlike chopines the heel was higher than the toe and the "platform" was made to bend in the middle with the foot.

The simple riding heel gave way to a more stylized heel over its first three decades. Beginning with the French, heel heights among men crept up, often becoming higher and thinner, until they were no longer useful while riding, but were relegated to "court-only" wear. By the late 1600s men's heels were commonly between three and four inches in height.

France's King Louis XIV (1638-1715) was only five feet, three inches tall until he grew five inches wearing shoes with curved heels constructed of cork and covered with red-dyed leather symbolizing nobility. On special occasions, his high heels were ornamented with hand-painted scenes of his military victories. Today, curved heels preserve his legacy and are known as Louis or French heels. Other heel-wearers used their footwear to boast of their wealth; the heels were so high that servants had to break them in, so to wear high heels also proved one could afford servants.

High-heeled shoes quickly caught on with the fashion-conscious men and women of the French court, and spread to pockets of nobility in other countries. The term "well-heeled" became synonymous with opulent wealth. Both men and women continued wearing heels as a matter of noble fashion throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When the French Revolution drew near, in the late 1700s, the practice of wearing heels fell into decline in France due to its associations with wealth and aristocracy. Throughout most of the 1800s, flat shoes and sandals were usual for both sexes, but the heel resurfaced in fashion during the late 1800s, almost exclusively among women. (Photo from Wikipedia) (Info from Wikipedia and Answers.com)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

very intersting!
I was curious about that.

Eric said...

I never knew the history of the high heels. I know French kings used to wear them, but this is really interesting. Now we know who to blame!