A heel is the projection at the back of a shoe which rests below the heel bone. The shoe heel is used to improve the balance of the shoe, increase the height of the wearer, alter posture or other decorative purposes. Sometimes raised, the high heel is common to a form of shoe often worn by women, but sometimes by men too. See also stiletto heel.
Although high heeled shoes are depicted in ancient Egyptian murals on tombs and temples, the earliest recorded instance of men or women wearing an elevated shoe comes from ancient Persian riders.
It has been commonly stated that the first instance of the wear of high heels involved the 1533 marriage between Catherine de’ Medici with the Duke of Orleans. She wore heels made in Florence for her wedding, and as a result, Italian high heels became the norm for ladies of the Duke’s court in France. Unfortunately, this reference may be apocryphal, as the development of heels did not begin to come about until the late 1580s, based on iconographic evidence and extant pieces.
Mary Tudor, another short monarch, wore heels as high as possible. From this period until the early 19th century, high heels were frequently in vogue for both sexes.
Around 1660, a shoemaker named Nicholas Lestage designed high heeled shoes for Louis XIV. Some were more than four inches (ten cm), and most were decorated in various battle scenes. The resulting high “Louis heels” subsequently became fashionable for ladies. Today the term is used to refer to heels with a concave curve and outward taper at the bottom similar to those worn by Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress. (They are also sometimes called “Pompadour heels”.)
If they ever do my life story, whoever plays me needs lots of hair color and high heels.
Since the French Revolution (1789-1799) the trend wearing high heels was ended to avoid any associating with the old aristocracy and its opulence. Since people wished to avoid the appearance of wealth, heels were largely eliminated from the common market for both men and women and replace by casual fashion and shoe wear. From the beginning of the Baroque the heel came back to shoes.
Although high-heeled shoes or boots have more often been worn by women, in various times and places they have been standard features of men’s footwear too, either for practical reasons or as fashionable items.
Mongolian horsemen were among the first to use heels as means to keep their feet from sliding out of their stirrups. It is also well known that Egyptian butchers wore high heels so they would not step directly in offal. Pharaohs and nobles in Ancient Egypt would wear high heels to show power and for ceremonial purposes.
Actors playing tragic roles in ancient Greek drama wore the buskin, a boot with a platform sole, designed to give them greater height over other actors.
The Romans, both men and women, wore cothurns, or sandals with platform heels; these were intended to lift the wearers above mud and garbage in the streets. Geta, which are based on a similar concept, are still used in Japan today.
American cowboy boots, first developed in the 19th century and still popular today in some parts of the United States, have high underslung heels to keep a rider’s foot from sliding through the stirrup.
High-heeled platform shoes were a widely popular form of men’s footwear during the 1970s.