Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

6/30/2015

High Heel History

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

High heels are the symbol of sexy, at least to many men and women, but it's also killer on one's feet. I've never been much for them, but they do have psychological effects on its wearer, be it man or woman.

A 17th century Persian riding shoe kept a man’s foot in his stirrups—and influenced European menswear.(© 2015 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada (photo: Ron Wood)) via Quartz

Did you know historically, men and women wore heels? This Quartz article notes:
...some 2,000 years ago male Greco-Roman actors wore thick, cork-soled platforms to exaggerate their heights as they portrayed gods and royalty, bringing to mind the more recent adage, “the higher the heel, the closer to God.”
Persian cavalrymen brought heels into the West in the last millennia, influencing 16th century Venice. Venitians then took this heel and created chopines that ranged from 6 to 20 inches (!) King Louis  XIV also enjoyed a silk covered heel.

But now, the heel is mostly a feminine fashion accessory and one that's starting to separate us, as my friend Meghan Cleary notes in her Boston Globe article. What was once something to be proud of, is something that's now forced on the female of the species. In response, wearing flats is now seen as an act of resistance.
“It may seem somewhat overblown to declare the seemingly trivial act of wearing flats to a formal event as an act of resistance, but the potential impact is truly significant. After all, it’s not that long ago that women were forbidden from wearing pants in public,” says Juliet Williams, an associate professor of gender studies and associate dean of social sciences at UCLA. “By this logic, the expectation (if not formal compulsion) that women wear high heels may be seen as one more shackle that needs to be cast off if women are ever to truly compete, toe-to-comfortable-toe, with men.”
Isn't it strange that what was once an accessory that brought us closer to God has become a chain around the female ankle? It is after all just a heel, but what symbolism it carries depending on its context. So the next time you try on a pair at a department store, think about the message you're telegraphing to your public.

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