Royally Uncomfortable: The History of High Heels

by Sarah Masih

While it may seem silly that humans would want to torture their feet by wearing exceptionally awkward shoes just to receive a couple of compliments, high heels have been one of the few trends that have come back from the dead.

For decades now, high heels have been associated with females. High heels are still viewed as items of a women’s wardrobe.

Would you believe there was once a time when males wore high heels to look more formidable? High heels were originally made for male soldiers, aristocrats, and even royals all over the world.


The Savannah College of Art and Design’s exhibition called ‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain’ explored the transformative power of shoes. This begs the question of why a shoe may have a cultural significance.

The origin of high-heels can be traced back to Persia when soldiers wore heels to secure their feet in stirrups and achieve the stability they needed to shoot their arrows.

By the 17th century, almost all Persian rides wore heels, since those who had horses had money; high heels came to represent power.

At the end of the 17th century, the Persian ruler sent out his delegation to create allies all over the globe. Places like Russia, Germany, and Spain soon caught the ‘Persia-mania’ and all the rich-guys were wearing high-heels.

Imagine wearing that to battle while another army was trying to slaughter you. It just looks so uncomfortable!

Flaunting Figures

Would you believe that there was once a time men envied other men who wore heels? During the 17th century, men’s fashion was all about flaunting their legs. They wore tight legging and colorful stockings along with their beloved heels to emphasize their calves.

Male portraits of the time were often painting from angles that showed off their toned legs. However, in today’s world if a man wore heels he would be teased and bullied.

King Louis XIV

One of the most famous kings who wore high heels constantly was King Louis XIV. He strongly believed that high-heels were an indication of power and even passed an edict on the topic.

His declaration stated that only nobility could wear high heels. He even color-coded shoes; each color represented what level of power one had. Red heels were the most powerful.

If one was wearing red heels, it meant that they were rich enough to keep clean shoes but powerful enough to crush his enemies with his foot.

Where it all began

During the 18th century, men and women’s shoe designs went in opposite directions. This period of time was when the transformation began; women’s shoes starting becoming narrower and more exquisite, whereas men’s shoes became sturdier.

The first recorded occurrence of a female wearing high heels was in the 16th century by a woman named Catherine de Medici. Catherine was about 4ft 11 inches and wanted to appear taller at her wedding.

Before that time, women had been wearing platform shoes almost 60 centimeters tall in 16th century Europe. These exceptionally high shoes made the upper-class European women appear giant-like. These shoes were so tall that servants were used as crutches sometimes.

These shoes called “Chopines” were completely hidden under skirts. The higher the footwear, the more cloth was required. Being able to afford that much cloth meant they were rich. Eventually, these chopines also became an indication of status.

If you think your 3inch heels are painful, imagine wearing heels that are almost three times that height!

Not much passion for fashion

In the olden days, not many ordinary people cared for fashion. Only the nobles cared about looking better than everyone else. The royals would spend their money on expensive shoes to try to outdo one another, whereas the everyday folks had neither the money nor the permission to invest in fashion.

It was only after World War II that the general populace was even allowed to wear high heels.


The word ‘stiletto’ is Italian for a ‘small metal dagger.’ Podiatrists and shoe historian Cameron Kippen said “We had to fight two world wars to have the technology to be able to make a stiletto heel,”.

The secret to making stiletto heels was that a small piece of metal had to be joined inside the shoes well enough so that the heel and the foot could operate separately. It made the shoe more flexible. At the time it was known as a shank.

Once that was figured out by shoemakers, the heels started to resemble what we see today. However, there was a small problem: stilettos at the time could actually poke holes into the floor, which concerned many ballroom owners at the time. Doctors were also concerned that wearing these shoes would cause long-term health problems.

However, even today, half a century after the invention of high heels there have been no discoveries of long-term health issues amongst people who wear high-heels.

Where it ends

In the 1730s, men started to abandon the idea of wearing high heels. As more and more women adapted to these shoes, men started to consider them inadequate. High-heels began to be considered as feminine.

Modern-day Connections

Though it is not common for men to be walking around in high-heels, many cultures still involve a form of these shoes. For example, cowboys can often be found in heels. Though, not the kind we see in a women’s wardrobe.

In the Hispanic world, Flamenco dancers often wear heels.

The Beatles helped spread the Cuban heel during their reign over the music world. Those shoes became known as the “Beetle boot” and are a variant of the Chelsea boot.

Italy is the dream destination for shoe shopping. Numerous high-end brands including Ferragamo, Tods, Prada, Giuseppe Zanotti, Dolce, and Gabbana, Moschino, Miu Miu, and Gucci originated from Italy.

So if you need super expensive, incredibly painful, yet stylish shoes - Italy is the place for you!


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