Little did I know that high heels had such a juicy history. I have been wearing heels for over 25 years now. In this day and age, we associate high heels with femininity.
I wear heels because they add height to my frame (I am 5’3” and appear to be shrinking with age) and they accentuate the appearance of my calves. Many women like that heels force the body to tilt so that the buttocks and breasts are emphasized. But, did you know that high heels were first worn by men?
High heels were worn in the ninth century by Persian horseback warriors . The heels prevented them from sliding out of the stirrups. In particular, when standing up to shoot arrows. Seems quite practical to me.
Dr. Lisa Wade states in her article “From Manly to Sexy: The History of the High Heel”, that high heels were adopted by European aristocracy of the1600s as a status signal because only someone who didn’t have to work could possibly go around in such impractical footwear . The elite wanted to distinguish themselves from the ‘lesser” people such as women and the working class.
Women started wearing high heels to appropriate masculine power and then the lower classes joined in to appropriate social status . In response, male European aristocracy wore even higher and thicker heels to maintain class distinction. Eventually, the elite men stopped wearing high heels because their association with women polluted the heel as a status symbol for men.
We can go back as far as 3500 BC, Ancient Egypt to see how heels divided economic classes. There are early depictions of high heels seen on ancient Egyptian murals. Egyptian nobility wore them to set them apart from the lower class who commonly went barefoot.
Fashion filtering down from the elite class is recognizable today. Just think of the Kardashians and how much their fashion has influenced pop culture. Speaking of the Kardashians, in the mid-nineteenth century pornography brought the high heel back , as women posed nude in heels. Heels were also associated with sex during the Ancient Roman times where sex trade was legal. They were used to identify those in the trade and therefore, became associated with prostitution.
Second wave feminists have trashed the high heel because of our society’s constricted notion of female beauty . They believe it contributes to the subordination and objectification of women. Although, I view myself as a feminist and appreciate all that the second wave feminists have done to eliminate the sexual oppression of women, I still love my heels!
And many health professionals advise women not to wear high heels for a prolonged period of time because you can experience the following:
foot and tendon problems
planter fasciitis; and
it can exacerbate lower back issues.
The Spine Health Institute recommends that women who do wear heels to avoid wearing them for a long period of time. They suggest that we limit the height of the heel to 2”, avoid pointed toe shoes (Oops, I wear pointed toes shoes often as they elongate the leg line) and try shoes on in the afternoon as feet tend to swell as the day goes on.
I must admit as I get older the height of my heel is getting shorter; comfort is becoming more important to me. But, I am still leaning on the side of form before function.
Where do you lean? Form before function or function before form?