ONTD Political

Why Did Men Stop Wearing Heels?

8:55 pm - 01/25/2013
For generations they have signified femininity and glamour - but a pair of high heels was once an essential accessory for men.

Beautiful, provocative, sexy - high heels may be all these things and more, but even their most ardent fans wouldn't claim they were practical.

They're no good for hiking or driving. They get stuck in things. Women in heels are advised to stay off the grass - and also ice, cobbled streets and posh floors.

And high heels don't tend to be very comfortable. It is almost as though they just weren't designed for walking in.

Originally, they weren't.

"The high heel was worn for centuries throughout the near east as a form of riding footwear," says Elizabeth Semmelhack of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.

Good horsemanship was essential to the fighting styles of the Persia - the historical name for modern-day Iran.

"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," says Semmelhack.

At the end of the 16th Century, Persia's Shah Abbas I had the largest cavalry in the world. He was keen to forge links with rulers in Western Europe to help him defeat his great enemy, the Ottoman Empire.

So in 1599, Abbas sent the first Persian diplomatic mission to Europe - it called on the courts of Russia, Germany and Spain.

A wave of interest in all things Persian passed through Western Europe. Persian style shoes were enthusiastically adopted by aristocrats, who sought to give their appearance a virile, masculine edge that, it suddenly seemed, only heeled shoes could supply.

Louis XIV wearing his trademark heels in a 1701 portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud
As the wearing of heels filtered into the lower ranks of society, the aristocracy responded by dramatically increasing the height of their shoes - and the high heel was born.

In the muddy, rutted streets of 17th Century Europe, these new shoes had no utility value whatsoever - but that was the point.

"One of the best ways that status can be conveyed is through impracticality," says Semmelhack, adding that the upper classes have always used impractical, uncomfortable and luxurious clothing to announce their privileged status.

"They aren't in the fields working and they don't have to walk far."

When it comes to history's most notable shoe collectors, the Imelda Marcos of his day was arguably Louis XIV of France. For a great king, he was rather diminutively proportioned at only 5ft 4in (1.63m).

He supplemented his stature by a further 4in (10cm) with heels, often elaborately decorated with depictions of battle scenes.

The heels and soles were always red - the dye was expensive and carried a martial overtone. The fashion soon spread overseas - Charles II of England's coronation portrait of 1661 features him wearing a pair of enormous red, French style heels - although he was over 6ft (1.85m) to begin with.

In the 1670s, Louis XIV issued an edict that only members of his court were allowed to wear red heels. In theory, all anyone in French society had to do to check whether someone was in favour with the king was to glance downwards. In practice, unauthorised, imitation heels were available.

Dat ankle.

Although Europeans were first attracted to heels because the Persian connection gave them a macho air, a craze in women's fashion for adopting elements of men's dress meant their use soon spread to women and children.

"In the 1630s you had women cutting their hair, adding epaulettes to their outfits," says Semmelhack.

"They would smoke pipes, they would wear hats that were very masculine. And this is why women adopted the heel - it was in an effort to masculinise their outfits."

From that time, Europe's upper classes followed a unisex shoe fashion until the end of the 17th Century, when things began to change again.

"You start seeing a change in the heel at this point," says Helen Persson, a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. "Men started to have a squarer, more robust, lower, stacky heel, while women's heels became more slender, more curvaceous."

The toes of women's shoes were often tapered so that when the tips appeared from her skirts, the wearer's feet appeared to be small and dainty.

Fast forward a few more years and the intellectual movement that came to be known as the Enlightenment brought with it a new respect for the rational and useful and an emphasis on education rather than privilege. Men's fashion shifted towards more practical clothing. In England, aristocrats began to wear simplified clothes that were linked to their work managing country estates.

It was the beginning of what has been called the Great Male Renunciation, which would see men abandon the wearing of jewellery, bright colours and ostentatious fabrics in favour of a dark, more sober, and homogeneous look. Men's clothing no longer operated so clearly as a signifier of social class, but while these boundaries were being blurred, the differences between the sexes became more pronounced.

"There begins a discussion about how men, regardless of station, of birth, if educated could become citizens," says Semmelhack.

"Women, in contrast, were seen as emotional, sentimental and uneducatable. Female desirability begins to be constructed in terms of irrational fashion and the high heel - once separated from its original function of horseback riding - becomes a primary example of impractical dress."

High heels were seen as foolish and effeminate. By 1740 men had stopped wearing them altogether.

But it was only 50 years before they disappeared from women's feet too, falling out of favour after the French Revolution.

By the time the heel came back into fashion, in the mid-19th Century, photography was transforming the way that fashions - and the female self-image - were constructed.

Pornographers were amongst the first to embrace the new technology, taking pictures of naked women for dirty postcards, positioning models in poses that resembled classical nudes, but wearing modern-day high heels.

Elizabeth Semmelhack, author of Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe, believes that this association with pornography led to high heels being seen as an erotic adornment for women.

The 1960s saw a return of low heeled cowboy boots for men and some dandies strutted their stuff in platform shoes in the 1970s.

But the era of men walking around on their toes seems to be behind us. Could we ever return to an era of guys squeezing their big hairy feet into four-inch, shiny, brightly coloured high heels?

"Absolutely," says Semmelhack. There is no reason, she believes, why the high heel cannot continue to be ascribed new meanings - although we may have to wait for true gender equality first.

"If it becomes a signifier of actual power, then men will be as willing to wear it as women."

More pics at the source.

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fauxparadiso 26th-Jan-2013 05:16 pm (UTC)
Could we ever return to an era of guys squeezing their big hairy feet into four-inch, shiny, brightly coloured high heels?

If RuPaul has his way... Jokes aside, I always wonder how guys feel about the narrow variety of types of clothing (in Western country-based styles). It's like every once in a while they realize what they're missing out on due to ~macho~ness, and try to play it off by making the item a compound/fusion word with "man", ex. murse, meggings,etc.
iolarah 26th-Jan-2013 05:20 pm (UTC)
A friend of mine jokes that that's why he's a transvestite. So many more clothing choices ;)
iolarah 26th-Jan-2013 05:19 pm (UTC)
The Bata Shoe Museum has an incredible collection of shoes from that era: silks and diamonds on every single one of them. It's almost blinding. The neat thing is that the upper-society ladies would give their cast-offs to the help, who would re-cover the shoes with new, less high-end fabric, and get even more wear out of them. It's a really interesting look at class division.
magli 26th-Jan-2013 05:33 pm (UTC)
Well, as a tall woman who enjoys wearing heels, I say men should also wear them. It would perhaps lower the number of short men who come up to me at parties to go: Wow, you're really tall.
the_gabih 26th-Jan-2013 11:04 pm (UTC)
I get people saying as much to me whether or not I'm in heels. /shrug
sio csb related to topic26th-Jan-2013 05:34 pm (UTC)
the choir teacher i had in high school and his wife (drama company teacher), for years, ran a Renaissance Dinner at Christmas time. us students auditioned to play the various roles (there was a royal court of eight, a king, a queen, and a jester), plus table hosts and servers to serve those who came a five course meal. there were skits and music and all sorts of fun shenanigans for the guests, all time period appropriate (15th century, IIRC).

in the two months leading up to the dinner, in between song rehearsals, we would do some serious learning about the history of the times--including fashion.

i will never forget the day fashion was discussed and Mr. P. whipped out a giant book he brought from home with full color photos, and was talking about how many of the fashions we girls now wore, were started by men--including high heels. i think we talked about it for three days, LOL.
ahria Re: csb related to topic26th-Jan-2013 08:50 pm (UTC)
That's pretty awesome.
tabaqui 26th-Jan-2013 07:21 pm (UTC)
While i don't wear heels much myself - i don't dress up much and don't find heeled boots all that practical in 'boot weather' - i love, love love a nice leg in a heel, be they man or woman.

More men should wear heeled boots and 'dress' shoes - why not? It makes your ass look fabulous and i love how people - well, some people - walk in heels. Just that little bit of sway.....
romp 26th-Jan-2013 08:25 pm (UTC)
I didn't know that history. Neat.
squeeful 26th-Jan-2013 08:40 pm (UTC)
Um, guys, European women were wearing high heeled shoes before that Persian diplomatic mission. Catherine de'Medici wore them at her marriage in 1533 to the Duke of Orleans. And even if that shoely event was only apocryphal, the first dated evidence in Italy comes from the 1680s. Shoes with heels for riding, in Europe, date back to at least the 16th century. Shoes with platforms are even older. It's called "ways to keep your feet and shoes out of the mud and shit on the street."

High heeled shoes are old. The ancient Egyptians wore them. The Ancient Greeks wore them. If a culture wore shoes, chances are good there's a high heeled version of said shoes.
mingemonster 27th-Jan-2013 12:30 pm (UTC)
It's called "ways to keep your feet and shoes out of the mud and shit on the street."

mte, which is why I had to raise my eyebrows at "In the muddy, rutted streets of 17th Century Europe, these new shoes had no utility value whatsoever"
redstar826 26th-Jan-2013 09:17 pm (UTC)
It's always interesting how certain trends come and go and why certain things become the norm for one gender or the other.

I really don't get the appeal of heels, especially the very high ones (and thanks to my gimpy leg I couldn't walk in them even if I wanted to), but I think that anyone who wants to wear them should be able to feel free to.

myrrhmade 26th-Jan-2013 09:30 pm (UTC)
Louis 14th heels are super flattering for just about every kind of leg shape , tbh.
(no subject) - Anonymous
magli 26th-Jan-2013 09:45 pm (UTC)
IA. Get yourself together, you're not being funny.
angry_chick 26th-Jan-2013 10:42 pm (UTC)
I'm grateful for ballet in that I don't have a problem with too much pain when wearing my heels. Pointe let me know that worse foot pain is very close to non-existent.
the_gabih 26th-Jan-2013 11:07 pm (UTC)
Meanwhile I'm sort of used to the general leg/foot pain that comes with wearing heels, because fuck if contemporary dance doesn't take it out on your lower body. It's not nearly as bad as pointe pain, granted (at least, not from what I heard from my friends doing ballet classes), but... yeah. Still not fun.
lickbrains 26th-Jan-2013 11:59 pm (UTC)
Interesting read! I love this :D I used to wonder as a kid why women had so much more variety and choices than men do. Looks like the tables have turned since it was socially acceptable (and encouraged) for men to be fashionable. Forever love my 6-inch pumps and bootines <3

Edited at 2013-01-27 12:00 am (UTC)
wikilobbying 27th-Jan-2013 02:40 am (UTC)
i love looking at heels but i can't wear them for shit lmao. to me, guys who can sport heels (as in they can stand/walk well in them instead of looking like newborn baby deer like i do......) look as sexy as women who can sport them, though.
kittymink 27th-Jan-2013 03:53 am (UTC)
I love historical fashion stuff like this, thanks for posting!

I love high heels though I don't wear them all the time and I can walk in them better than most people.
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