While high heels look great, they aren’t exactly the most practical form of a footwear that has ever been invented, as anyone who has had to run in heels will tell you. Heels did, however, start out as a practical solution to a problem. They were made so that men riding horses could get a better grip on their mount when they were shooting arrows. In fact, heals were far more popular with men than women for a long time and it’s only relatively recently that they became a female fashion item. If you have ever sat nursing blisters and a twisted ankle, and wondered who on earth invented such a thing, here is a brief history of where high heels came from in the first place.
1. It all started a long, long time ago
We begin our story of the high heel, way back when, in 3500 BC. The very first record of high heels being worn can be found in Egypt, where pictures of the ancient Egyptians wearing elevated heels have been seen in tombs and temples. This was probably so that the kings and nobles of the time would appear to be taller and more powerful than their minions.
2. They had a practical use in the Middle Ages too
The middle ages were the time of the bubonic plague and a time when people emptied their rubbish, and their toilets, straight out onto the street. It’s no wonder then, that heels became popular during this time, as people wore them to keep their feet as far away from the filthy city streets as they possibly could!
3. Pointed high toe high heels emerged in the 12th century
Another of the painful high heel fashions that has survived right up to the present day is the pointed toe. This first became fashionable in the 12th century and it was the knights of Richard the Lionheart, who wore them, not the fair damsels. The pointed toe made it easier for the knights to slip their feet into the stirrups on a horse, and the heels gave them better grip while they were riding their steeds.
4. Bloody Mary made heels popular for women in the 16th century
The first mention of the modern high heel for women was in the 16th century, when the Italian noblewoman, Catherine d’Medici, wore them at her wedding. Meanwhile, in England, Queen Mary the first, or bloody Mary, as she is better known, set a trend for wearing heels that was followed by men and women alike.
5. The term ‘well heeled’ comes from high heels
Historically, high heels were worn by royalty and the aristocracy, as a sign of their wealth and their elevated status in society. That is why, today, we use the term ‘well-heeled’ to describe a person with a sizeable bank balance.
6. Queen Victoria made high heeled boots popular
In the 19th century, Queen Victoria was one of the first women to be seen in high heeled boots, and the fashion quickly spread in popularity. During this period the sewing machine was also invented, which meant that high heel became easier and cheaper to make, which made them available to more people.
7. Heels were popular with both men and women up until the 1900’s
Throughout the early history of heels, they were worn by both men and women. If anything, men lead the way with heels with the kings and nobleman setting the trends. Gradually, though, women’s heels became more slender and feminine and men began to revert to the more practical flat shoe.
8. The Twentieth century heel revolution
Roll on into the mid twentieth century and modern manufacturing techniques meant that heels were available to everyone and just about any design of heel became possible. The super-high stiletto heel was invented in 1955 by French designer, Roger Vivier and when stars like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn were seen wearing heels, it virtually guaranteed a place for high heels in every woman’s wardrobe from there on.
9. The 1970’s had both men and women wearing high heels again
The 1970’s saw the high heel morph into platform shoes, which were worn by both men and women, making it the only time in modern history that heels have been fashionable for men to wear. Mind you, if anyone reading this is old enough to remember the 1970’s platform shoes, you’d probably agree that they are best left in the past!
10. The Twenty First Century and high heels
That brings us right up to today. The modern high heel looks like it is here to stay and, thanks to TV shows like Sex in the City; High heels are a firm favourite again and, love them or hate them, it doesn’t look like they will be disappearing from our wardrobes any time soon, so don’t throw out your corn-plasters just yet.