Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Potted history of high heeled shoes

Some historians believe the fashion for high heeled shoes arose as a modification of the chopine (the original platforms). Shoe makers carved out the forefoot section of the platform and created a heel. This made the elevated shoe easier and safer to walk in. Elevated shoes had been known from early Hellenic times however this phase of fashion was the first time shoes were associated with the female sex. The true heel as we know it today was not introduced until the middle of the twentieth century when technology and design fashioned the stiletto heel. In the sixteenth century, height challenged Catherine de Medici wore heeled mules when she married the King of France. She had moved from Florence, the centre of fashion and flair to Paris, and as was the custom took with her the costumes and customs of her heritage. Heeled shoes became an instant success and the fashion remained in vogue throughout her lifetime. Many experts believe this was the true beginning of fashion because it was the first time ever a costume had lasted the life time of an individual. After her death heeled shoes for ladies became passé but high-heeled shoes became popular with men as well as a trademark of sex workers of the time. Prior to the French Revolution contemporary medical reports described the changes in posture associated with wearing high heels. ‘Medical gaze' was firmly transfixed to women and ignored men completely. Women of distinction no longer wore heeled shoes preferring the new style of heel-less pumps and some authorities believe this was a veiled attempt to moralize by misogynists. High heels for men were considered in vogue during the 17 & 18th century. Louis XIV became fanatical about them and banned anyone other than the privileged classes from wearing them on penalty of death. The Sun King was of short stature and may have preferred the borrowed height heels could give him. The heels of men's shoes often were painted with miniature rustic or romantic scenes. Different shapes were experimented with including hourglass heels. Also during this time men's shoes were ornamented with silver buckles. The Louis Heel was invented by Louis XV (1715-1774) was splayed at the base with a wasted section, which is still used in modern female fashion. He also introduced the white shoe to match his hose but red heels survived until 1760. The term "down on your heels" is thought to relate to the habit of the rich towering over the poor. Late in the 16th century rounded toe shoes were popular but heels for women's shoes were not introduced until the beginning of the seventeenth century. Instead wedge shaped soles were popular; these thrust the foot forward like a heel. Most shoes of the period were leather or heavy velvet and were made in a number of different colours, Most were simple slip-ons but some fastened with a lace, or buckle at the instep. Thigh length boots were fashionable and were sometimes heavily decorated at the thigh and attached to the doublet by suspenders. (Anderson Black J Garland M, 1970). Until 1615 shoes might have had their uppers slashed to show the stockings or linings. After this date decoration was chiefly concentrated on ribbon ties and shoe roses. After 1680 the instep fastening was usually a strap and buckle. After the French Revolution heel heights lowered. The new socialist government was short of money and many shoe buckles were donated to the cause. Ladies in the early part of the nineteenth century wore low-heeled satin shoes but as the twentieth century approached high-heeled boots for women became vogue. Stylish shoes were low cut and worn with silk stockings. Worker women wore lace ups. Women began by the 30’s to wear square-toed shoes. Men’s became progressively narrower and were worn by the dandies of the day. Both men and women wore striped socks and stockings respectively with women wearing lace up boots. By 1884 ladies wore shoes of fancy leather and pointed toes. These were highly decorated with rosettes and heels, one and a half to two inches high. In the first decade of the twentieth century court shoes with lacing and T straps were popular. Women sometimes wore high heeled calf length buttoned or laced boots with shorter and wider skirts. As the decade progressed however boots fell from fashion. Men started to wear light coloured socks and laced shoes. Women wore high heeled court shoes trimmed with decorative buckles; spats by 1924 had become passé. After the Depression walking shoes with low heels were fashionable. Evening wear included court shoes with Louis heels. Toe cleavage was seen with peekaboo cutaways. This fashion appeared in 1936. By the forties most of fashion for women’s shoes had become heavy and practical and by the end of rationing platform shoes were reintroduced. In the fifties, shoes became lighter in appearance and were worn with stiletto high heels and pointed toes.

Anderson-Black J. Garland M. 1975 A history of fashion London: Orbis Publishing.

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