Monday, 5 August 2013

These Heels Weren't Made for Walking

Ever wondered about the ridiculously impractical design of a high heeled shoe? The answer lies in its intriguing past where the shoe was not only designed to not be walked in at all, but was originally fashioned for men…
In an article for the BBC, Elizabeth Semmelhack, from Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum explains, “The high heel was worn for centuries throughout the near east as a form of riding footwear. When the soldier stood up in his stirrups, the heel helped him to secure his stance so that he could shoot his bow and arrow more effectively.”
At the end of the 16th Century, Persia –which is now modern day Iran – had the largest cavalry in the world. In 1599, a group of Persian diplomats visited Europe to recruit allies to help them defeat the Turkish Empire. It was from here that the Western world first adopted style from the Persian culture. In particular, their high heeled shoes became very popular amongst aristocrats, who donned the unusual footwear in an effort to appear more masculine.

And it didn’t stop there. As if it wasn’t impractical enough, the height of the heel grew even higher as the aristocracy attempted to stay superior from the civilians who took a liking to the new fashion. “One of the best ways that status can be conveyed is through impracticality… They aren’t in the fields and they don’t have to work hard,” says Semmelhack.
So at what point did the heel begin to symbolise femininity?
A new trend for women dressing like men began in the 1630s. They cut their hair short, they smoked pipes and they took on the high heel. A unisex shoe fashion was born and lasted until the end of the 17thCentury. As men’s heels evolved to become squarer, lower and more robust, women’s heels became rounder, more slender and tapered at the toe in an effort to make the foot look smaller and daintier.
As men became more involved in the work place, men’s fashion shifted towards a more practical style. They discarded their bright colours and jewellery in favour of darker, more simplified and practical clothing. As women continued to favour the heel, men’s heel wearing days disappeared into history.