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Who Invented High Heels?

Instructor: Lorrine Garrison-Boyd
High heels are typically thought of as a fashion item exclusively for women. However, as this lesson will explain, men were the first ones to wear them. This lesson will also identify some of the first cultures noted for the inventions of high heels.

The Introduction of High Heels

Today, high heels are a fashion statement for women. In the past, though, they served many purposes. This shoe style has been around for a long time, but it has never been discovered who invented them or exactly when they were invented. So, instead of focusing on who invented high heels, let's take a look at the roles they have played throughout history.

High Heels in Ancient Times

High heels were noted in Ancient Egyptian drawings (3500 B.C.) illustrating both men and women wearing footwear with elevated heels. Often these illustrations depicted the shoes worn by nobility during prestigious ceremonial practices, while other figures from a lower class were depicted with bare feet. For practical purposes, Egyptians butchers wore high heels. By wearing elevated shoes, Egyptian butchers were able to safely walk over the carcasses of dead animals.

In Ancient Greece, platform shoes called kothorni were created for actors to represent the particular status of story characters in a performance, probably representing the upper class, nobility or royalty. In Ancient Rome, these type of high heels, also called bushkins_ and consisting of a high wooden cork sole, were invented for ladies soliciting men for pleasure.

In Turkey, during the Middle Ages around the 1400s, high heel shoes called chopines were originally invented exclusively for women and were similar to other high heel shoes called pattens, which worn by both men and women. Pattens were attached to other shoes to keep them free from debris or mud. This high heel platform shoe became popular in Europe moving the high heel shoe from practical uses to an object of fashion.

High Heels in Persia

For Persian men, the high heel shoes were usually a part of one's riding attire due to the fact that the shoes provided balance when using stirrups. Persian horseman especially found high heel shoes useful while attempting to ride and maneuver other equipment, like a bow and arrow. Eventually, the style of high heel shoes began to symbolize prestige and status, both for women and men.

High Heels Move to France

When Persian styles and customs of clothing were first introduced and accepted by European culture, a booming fashion statement developed among European aristocrats. In the forefront was King Louis XIV of France, who wore high heels initially around the age of 20, continuing to around the age of 60. The king was shorter than the average Frenchman and wore high heels to increase the appearance of his height.

The red soles and four inch red heels of the King's shoes represented his power, wealth and high society status. This started a fashion trend among the elite not only in France but also in other European countries. Now the high heel shoes worn by men included more inches to project a taller look.

Women Take on the High Heel

In 1533, one of the first women to wear high heels as a fashion statement and for the purpose of increasing personal height was Catherine de Medici, who at the age of 14 was engaged to be married. Her husband to be, the Duke of Orleans, was very tall, and Medici wanted high heel shoes that would help her small petite statue appear taller. On their wedding day, she wore two inch high heels that were successful in giving her the confidence and fashion appeal she wanted. Again, the high heels represented privilege and wealth.

The Evolution of High Heels

Suddenly, the fashion statement originated by men became a women's fashion statement when the lifestyles of ladies in the 1630s began to change and an attitude of female independence was demonstrated by smoking pipes, wearing shorter hairstyles and also wearing high heels.

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