a students' magazine

A war on high heels

Until I was invited to a party where high heels were obligatory, I had never confronted the problem of walking in those “foot-traps”! Quite a lot of girls like wearing them because they make them look taller and slimmer, but although I like seeing them on others, I don’t really fancy wearing them myself. So, now that my turn has come, I can’t help but ask myself: who was the misogynistic idiot that invented them?

As weird as it may sound, originally high heels were an essential accessory  for men and they weren’t even designed for walking. The first high-heeled shoes were worn by Persian knights, because they would help them keep their balance whenever they needed to stand up in the stirrups to shoot their arrows on horseback.

At the end of the 16th Century, Persia had the largest cavalry in the world and its king was very interested in forging links with Western European rulers that could have helped him defeat the Ottoman Empire. When the first Persian ambassadors arrived in Europe, a wave of interest arose in Persian culture and society and, as a consequence, Europeans began to absorb some of their traditions, including the new shoe style. This time high heels were not used for battling; they were adopted by the European aristocracy of the 1600s as a signal of status. High heels symbolized masculinity, virility and also the logic was that only someone who didn’t have to work could possibly go around in such impractical footwear.

Eventually, high heels were also used by lower ranks of society and by women who wanted to gain masculine power. In response to this, aristocracy had to increase the height of their heels and they differentiated them into two types: fat heels for men and skinny for women.

One of the most popular high heel wearers during the 17th century was Louis XIV, who had a personal shoemaker that designed heels that were up to five inches in height and were decorated with patterns of battle scenes.  Louis XIV also declared that red high heels could only be worn by nobility and that no one could wear high heels that were higher than his (so now you know where Louboutin’s red soles come from!).

Things changed during the Enlightenment. This cultural movement brought a new sense of trust in rationality, utility and education, rather than emotions and privilege. As a result, men switched from a pompous, flashy look to a more sober and homogeneous one. But unfortunately this time women did not copy them; because women were seen as emotional, sentimental and ineducable, irrational fashion and impractical clothing, such as high heels, began to be associated with them.

Eventually, after the French Revolution, flat came back into fashion and women stopped wearing high heels, but  this beautiful trend was only going to last until the 19th century. From then on, high heels evolved into monstrous, torture machines

and then they took on a more reasonable and humane line

So the moral of the story is, if you’re not an archer on horseback going into battle, don’t wear them 🙂

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