If you associate high heels with women’s stilettos, you might be surprised to hear that they were originally invented for men’s footwear. Men’s shoes traditionally had high heels to make it easier to ride on horseback. Later, they became a status symbol among the aristocracy.
Today, a wide range of men’s shoe styles still sport a low heel, but now that our horse riding days are largely a thing of the past, why do men’s shoes have heels? The short answer it to protect the soles of your shoes from wear, but the longer answer is a fascinating journey through world history…
What were high heels originally made for?
Believe it or not, the heel was first worn for practical reasons.
In 16th century Persia, now Iran, men on horseback wore heeled shoes. The heels allowed the rider to stand in his stirrups with more stability, giving a solid base for shooting arrows.
When Persian Ruler Shah Abbas (the first) sent his representatives to Spain, Russia, and Germany, the Persians’ heeled shoes were seen as the epitome of masculinity. Wealthy Europeans quickly adopted the style, followed soon after by the general population. Heels were worn by both men and women who saw them as a symbol of style and status.
Why did men’s shoes stop having high heels?
In the 1670s, Louis XIV decreed that only nobility could wear heels. Later, during the French Revolution, high heels were rejected by revolutionaries as a symbol of the aristocracy that they sought to overthrow.
As the age of Enlightenment took hold, more practical styles became popular. The Great Male Renunciation followed, which saw bright colours, jewellery and heels shunned. Ostentatious fabrics were swapped for simple sober shades and men’s shoes began to look something like the footwear of today.
Napoleon banned heels altogether, and this trend swept across Europe until heels became a thing of the past.
Why did high heels become womenswear?
With the arrival of the Victorian era came technological advances like the sewing machine. This made the production of textiles and shoes much easier, and the heel re-emerged.
Men and women both wore heeled shoes, but attitudes to fashion had changed. What was once a Persian symbol of masculinity had evolved into a symbol of sexuality for women.
Heels made the wearer appear taller and created the illusion of smaller feet, an important beauty standard at the time. Contemporary technology now allows for higher and thinner heels – and today’s stilettos were born.
Why do we still put heels on men’s shoes?
During the 1970s many men wore high Cuban heels, similar to those worn by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. But more recently, Russell Brand has inspired a resurgence in Beatle-inspired Chelsea boots, and Robert Downey Jr has been spotted wearing ‘lifts’ in his shoes to appear taller.
The heels added to most men’s shoes and boots are usually only small. While they do offer vertically challenged men an extra inch of height, they also have a more important role in preserving the life of your shoe. People plant their heel first when they walk, and unless protected, the sole of a shoe can wear down quickly. The combination of a Goodyear welted sole, a talented cobbler and a small heel is the secret to making your high quality shoes last a lifetime.
Do you sport a stacked heel? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below.