High Heels -Centuries of Fashion

Jahn Westbrook

By jahn westbrook

Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin and their contemporaries have styled, shaped and fashioned “jewels for the feet” for woman, for many decades. Ironically, heels were originally gendered for men. Centuries of fashion gender-ified heels for women’s fashion.

Ancient History

In 900’s – 300’s BC, members of the Persian calvary wore riding shoes with a one-inch heel, and a slightly down pointed toe. This design helped keep the rider’s shoes in the stirrups, consequentially giving them better control over their steeds and gave them stability when standing to use their bows and arrows.

Even earlier depictions of a raised shoe came from ca. 3500 BC Egypt. These shoes are more of a wedge style heel, rather than a typical high-heel. These footwear were worn by Egyptian peerage to separate them from the lower class, who typically went barefoot. These shoes are thought to also have a practical purpose; worn by butchers to elevate their feet above the blood and carcass waste.

Ancient Greece and Rome, ca. 8th – 5th centuries, saw a rise in foot wear. Called, “Kothori” or “Buskins,” these ‘platform’ shoes sported a cork platform and were favored by Greek actors who wore them to differentiate the social classes of the characters. These shoes also were associated with the legal Roman sex-trade. Courtesans would wear them to attract potential clients, ergo, high-heels would become synonymous with prostitution.

Throughout the 15th – 17th centuries, “Chopines” were a popular form of foot attire. Not truly “heels,” this design originated to keep wearers feet out of the mud and mire. However, stylized versions permanently separated women’s and men’s shoes. Height separated social and economical classes, the higher you stood, the more affluent you were. Women’s “Chopines,” in some cases, reached a height of up to 20”, and allowed women to tower over everyone. These rendered the female gait unsteady, and required attendants to assist the wearer, which also gave them a higher status among the aristocracy.

Around the 17th century, heels became gendered. Wider, blockier heels became masculine associated, while thinner, more narrow heels became synonymously feminine. The latter part of the 18th century, coinciding with the French Revolution, saw the frivolity and impracticality of mens heels and they quickly went out of style. Women’s heels followed shortly after, and heels disappeared from fashion for almost a century.


-Christian Louboutin

Contemporary History

Women’s heels remained low at the turn of the 20th century. It would remain this way, with the rise of the suffragette movement and the fight for “women’s rights.” Comfort and sensibility were the theme. Heels’ resurgence came about in the Roaring Twenties. Flappers “kicked up their heels” to the sanguine delight of their beaus.

Throughout the 30’s and 40’s, high heels came in and out of popularity. During WWII and the great depression, high heels were viewed as a luxury, and only the very affluent could afford to splurge on such footwear. Post WWII, and rebuilding, French designer Christian Dior brought back the stiletto, with the design assistance of Roger Vivier, in the 1950’s. Vivier invented a sturdy plastic piece used in the slender heel design he called “the needle.”

Heel heights and styes changed throughout the succeeding decades. Regardless of status or social class the high heel became a staple of nearly every woman’s closet. The feminist movement tried, unsuccessfully, to rail against the high heel as a clandestine means for men to slow women from advancing themselves, both literally and figuratively.


Marilyn Monroe

Hollywood movie stars, such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, gave the heel a sensuality, virtually making it a sex symbol in its own right. Present day materials and construction designs have taken the heel in marvelous and magical directions. There are more daring and fancier designs, one to fit every mood, desire and engagement of the female guile.

Heeled Shoes For Men

Throughout history, men of upper class donned heels as a means to separate themselves from the lower classes. Men’s heels were consigned to the block or chunk style, by virtue of their considerable weight, height and extra pounds of extravagant attire; a thinner heel was not possible.

Four fabulous English guys sported “Beatle Boots” when they came to America. The Beatles’ popularity sparked a demand for the modest, block heeled, boots for guys. Masculine footwear peeked in height during the disco era of the 1970’s. Platform shoes became a fad staple during this time. John Travolta sported them in “Saturday Night Fever,” and performers the like of Elton John and David Bowie added them to their stage show attire.

Modern day cowboy boots retain the concept of the Persian horseback rider’s heels. That inspiration, now enables horseback riders better stability when wielding their lasso or lariat. Modern cowboy boots are a Cuban style boot, with a modest, straight heel.

Types of Women’s heels


  1. Stiletto: Ranging in height from 4 inches to 10+ inches, they are the highest of women’s heels.
  2. Kitten: These are the lowest of women’s heels, typically a conservative 1 inch heel, they can go up to 2 inches in height
  3. Pumps: Commonly known as “high heels,” these are the staple of today’s woman’s closet. They range in height from 2 inches to 4 inches
  4. Platform: This distinctive shoe raises the heel and the toe bed, in unequal proportions, thus further elevating the body. These can range from a gentle 1 inch additional height to the toe bed, up to the stylistically impractical 6+ inches toe bed(usually reserved for performance wear and not general locomotion)


  • Cone: Contouring to the round back of the shoe and resembling a cone, these heels are wider at the sole and narrow toward the tip.
  • Prism: Similar to the cone heel, these heels resemble a triangle. They are wider at the sole and taper toward the tip. These are predominately nonexistent today.
  • Comma: These heels curve slightly outward or inward, and are typically no more than 4 inches in height.
  • Chunk: or “block” heel, these look exactly as they sound. A thick, straight heel covers more ground and provides better stability for the wearer.
  • Wedge: Though not a typical heel, this style gives the foot greater support as the full length of the foot is supported, from heel to toe.
  • Spool: These heels resemble a thread spool. They equal the width of the heel, taper toward the middle, then slightly widen out again at the tip.

Did You Know…

The term “Well-Heeled” means rich; wealthy; prosperous. The earliest origin of the phrase, was circa 1590, where it became synonymous with the aristocracy and owners of horses. Horse owners were considered noble and refined, symbolizing wealth and a prosperous upbringing.

I cannot have enough flavors of heels in my closet. We all have our favorites, and mine right now are a pair of Nine West Ameliao strappy sandals, with a 2.5 inch heel. Yummy. Step out in style girls, for next we’ll find out the positive and negative effects our heel choices have on our bodies: High Heels-Walk It Girl. Take a more scientific exploration in what happens when we step into heels, in High Heels -Foot Biometrics.

mir, irini, peace, amn,



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