Why Did Men Stop Wearing High Heels?

Last Updated on September 28, 2023 by Chase Reiner

Men stopped wearing high heels primarily due to shifting fashion trends in the 18th century. As practicality and comfort became more important, men’s footwear evolved towards flatter and more functional designs.

high heels for men

Why Did Men Stop Wearing High Heels?

1. Introduction of New Social Norms

In the early 18th century, the societal norms began to shift. Suddenly, high heels were being associated with femininity, largely due to changing trends in fashion. This created an awkward situation for men, so they began to distance themselves from what was now seen as a feminine accessory.

2. Practicality and Comfort

High heels are not exactly the go-to choice when it comes to comfort or activities involving a lot of walking or running. Over time, men opted for more practical and comfortable footwear for day-to-day functions and work.

3. The Emergence of Class Distinction

High heels were initially worn by European aristocracy, with both men and women flaunting them to show off their status. However, as the lower classes started wearing high heels in an attempt to mimic the upper class, the aristocrats needed a new way to separate themselves. As a result, men abandoned high heels and embraced a more sober style.

4. The Influence of the Enlightenment Period

The Enlightenment period brought about a change in people’s perceptions of gender and rationality. High heels were considered irrational and impractical. As men were associated with reason and practicality, they discontinued the trend.

5. Health Risks

Wearing high heels for extended periods of time can lead to numerous health issues, including joint pain, foot deformities, and back problems. Many men, considering their overall well-being, have refrained from wearing high heels.

6. Changes in Military Fashion

In the past, high heels were worn by cavalrymen for a functional purpose. The heel helped secure the rider’s foot in the stirrup for better stability. But as war tactics and military fashion changed, flat and sturdy boots took over, leading to a decline in the use of high heels by men.

Introduction of New Social NormsHigh heels became associated with femininity.
Practicality and ComfortMen preferred more comfortable options for daily activities.
The Emergence of Class DistinctionHigh heels no longer symbolized higher social status.
The Influence of the Enlightenment PeriodHigh heels were viewed as irrational and impractical.
Health RisksHigh heels pose health risks such as joint pain and foot deformities.
Changes in Military FashionModern warfare and tactics called for more durable footwear.

While high heels are no longer a staple in men’s fashion, their historical significance cannot be overlooked. The shift away from high heels by men is a fascinating study in fashion, societal norms, and practical considerations.

The history of high heels

The origin of high heels can be traced back to the 15th-century Persia. Persian soldiers are believed to have worn heels during horse riding to prevent their feet from slipping and also improve their posture while shooting arrows in stirrups. Persian diplomats visited Europe in 1599 to forge links with European aristocrats to help defeat the Ottoman Empire. It is during this period that the Europeans enthusiastically adopted the Persian style of shoes, which gave the aristocrats a virile edge.

When those in the lower ranks of society adopted the wearing of heels, the aristocrats responded by increasing the height of their shoes, bringing into existence the high heel. For the lower class in society, high heels were impractical since they had to walk long distances and work in the fields. This, therefore, distinguished the upper class from the lower class. At this point, high heels became a symbol of class and status quo.

Heels being worn for status and ego

King Louis XIV of France is history’s most notable shoe collector. He was 5 feet and 4 inches tall; he started wearing 4-inch heels that were decorated with images of battle scenes to supplement his height. The heels and soles of his shoes had a martial overtone, which was colored red from a costly dye.

In the 1670s, King Louis XIV wanted to trademark his style, and he, therefore, made it illegal for anyone who was not a member of his court to wear red heels. This fashion later spread overseas, and Charles II of England wore enormous red French-style heels during his coronation.

Women embrace heels as a symbol of equality.

In the 1630s, women began demanding equal rights as men. They cut their hair short, smoked cigars, and wore masculine hats and heels. All these were efforts to show men that they were equal. During this time, Europe’s upper class embraced a unisex shoe design. Catherine de Medici was the first woman recorded to have worn heels in the 16th century. She wore heels during her wedding because she wanted to appear taller. More women picked up this trend and wore heels of up to 60 centimeters in height and used maids as crutches. Due to such heights, women fell often, and some pregnant women miscarried. These misfortunes brought about the need to revise women’s heel design.

 At the end of the 17th century, things changed, and men started wearing square, low, and sturdy heels while women’s heels were slender and more rounded.

The great male renunciation

The intellectual movement brought about an emphasis on education as opposed to privilege. People started embracing what was sensible and useful, and at this point, men’s fashion became more practical. They abandoned the wearing of jewelry and bright colors and embraced a homogenous look. Men’s clothing was no longer a symbol of social class but rather about matching their profession. Men’s and women’s fashion was distinguished, and men completely stopped wearing heels. Heels were now looked upon as foolish and effeminate.

After the French Revolution, heels fell out of favor, and women stopped wearing them too. They came back into fashion in the 19th century, with photographers using them to transform the female image. Wearing heels became so feminized, and the idea of heels being made for women spread all over the world to date. 

Would men go back to wearing high heels?

Having in mind the feminization of wearing heels, most men say no to the thought of ever wearing high heels. However, there are low-heeled cowboy boots that men have been wearing since the 1960s without much fuss. Modern-day style influencers continue to embrace the cowboy boot as a firm favorite leading to increased sales on eBay. Research also shows that the cowboy has become a symbolic representation of American ideas of masculinity. This could also be the reason for the increase in sales of the heeled men’s boots.

Semmelhack, author of Heights of fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe, says that if we achieve true gender equality and ascribe new meaning to the high heel, men will embrace it. She says, “if the high heel becomes a signifier of actual power, then men will be as willing to wear it as women.”

According to lyst.co.uk, the search for “men’s heels,” which translated to actual sales, has grown by 30%. Recently, we have seen male celebrities wearing heels and fans praising them. A case in point is Sam Smith, who wore heels to an award in 2019 and posted it on social media. The fashion designer Marc Jobs also wore massive heeled boots a couple of times and was praised by fans. A Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata wore a stiletto in an image that went viral early this year, and it provoked outrage with protesters calling it disgusting.  It is not clear whether it is the design of the shoe or the nudity that was on the photo that provoked outrage.

Popular designers are now venturing into the men’s heels fashion with platform designs on the rise. From Gucci to Maison Margiela and Saint Laurent, we have seen Chelsea boots, split-toe boots, and heeled loafers for men. This could be a sign that men are embracing high heels once more, and the much-awaited revolution is finally here.



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