Did you know that men were the first to wear high heels? Yes, you read that right. Heels were used in the past for practical purposes other than just fashion. The use of heels transitioned from riding footwear that helped the riders rise above the mud to boosting the height of the king and finally as a symbol of class. Women wore heels as they demanded equality, and they slowly were associated with femininity to date.
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 improving 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 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, the 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 4inch 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 heels design.
At the end of the 17th century, things changed, and men started wearing squarer, low, and sturdy heel 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 is 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 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 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 also 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.