The Fashion Chronicles: History of the High Heel

It’s back to the books! Ready for a little Fashion 101? Each month, I’ll research a new topic for The Fashion Chronicles, and share everything I learn about fashion history with you here on the Tradesy blog. To kick off the month, here’s my high heel history:

The high heel’s earliest descendent can be traced back to the Chopine, an extremely high platformed shoe worn by  Venetian courtesans in the beginning of the 16th century. The height of the Chopine was the ultimate sign of status because it required the wearer to be accompanied by a servant, and denoted a life of leisure in which a woman barely had to move, let  alone work!

Chopine, 16th century

Less than a century later, men of the European aristocracy  adopted  a low form of the high heel as a symbol of status because again, only a  man of leisure could afford to be so immobile. Women quickly began to sport the style too, since  the  height made her feet appear smaller and more delicate. Throughout the 17th century the high heel continued to denote wealth and status, and sometimes  political power. During the reign of King Louis VIX,  only members of his court were allowed to wear red high heeled shoes––a precursor to the exclusive scarlet soles of Christian Louboutin!

Louis XIV, 1701-2, Hyacinthe Rigaud

But men stopped wearing the heel by 1730, and eventually with the age of Enlightenment and subsequently The French Revolution, the frivolous heel was abandoned by women too in favor of the more rational flat. It was not until 1850 that the heel reemerged in the place where style always begins––Paris. Parisian women sauntered down the newly constructed  boulevards ushering in a new era of window shopping, and at night, Can Can dancers  kicked up their petticoats  to reveal heeled boots beneath.  Women were gaining unprecedented social and political privileges, and at the turn of the 19th century, the heel began to symbolize the rise of female empowerment, embraced by flappers and suffragettes alike!

Women’s Suffrage Parade, 1913

Throughout the 19th century, the heel was diversified as the film industry sought to create more elaborate costumes,  while the rationing of World War II forced innovation such as the use of unconventional materials such as straw and snakeskin! Indeed, the war also brought advances in steel production which enabled the stiletto style shoe because steel is a stronger, lighter, and more stable alternative to wood, which allowed the high heel to reach new heights! h2_1980.597.4
Evening Shoe, Roger Vivier, 1961

The heel has since played an important role in high fashion as well as in counterculture movements such as the Punk, disco, and Rock and Roll movements. Considering its history, the heel has remained relatively true to its roots as a symbol of status, sex, and statuesque beauty!

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