When Men Wore High Heels

When Men Wore High Heels
King Louis XIV

The Interesting Story of High Heels and How They Were Originally Meant for Men

Just like the weird story of how pink was once considered a masculine color while blue was more of a feminine color, it’s surprising to know that high heels were originally designed for men long before they were worn by women. Here’s the story.

Evidence of the existence of high heels date back to 9th century Persia. These shoes were worn by horseback warriors in order to keep the rider’s foot secure in stirrups. Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto exhibits some of these Persian riding shoes.

Photo: Bata Shoe Museum
Photo: Bata Shoe Museum

A few centuries later, at the end of the 16th century, high heels arrived in Europe and became extremely popular among the upper class men as they were seen as virile and masculine. In addition, they made men look taller which was a huge plus during those days.

One important factor that helped towards the popularity of high heels was the fact that French King, Louis XIV (who was a notorious shoe collector) started wearing red high heels in order to gain a few inches as he was just 5’4” or 1.62m (remember when we talked about the myth of Napoleon being short?).

Louis XIV went a step further and ruled that only the members of his court could wear red high heels even though people were wearing them anyway. As usually happens in these cases the lower classes start imitating the upper class and high heels soon became a high fashion icon.

This was the case up until the 1630’s. But then things changed. Women started smoking pipes, cutting their hair and wearing heels in order to adopt the style and appear masculine. For some years, heels were considered unisex even though men started wearing thicker heels as opposed to women who preferred skinnier ones.

At the beginning of the 18th century, and with the Enlightenment under way, men’s fashion shifted from status to practicality and men gradually stopped wearing heels as they were considered foolish. Surprisingly, after the French revolution, women also stopped wearing heels that came back into fashion more than a century later (mid 19th century) when they were featured in erotic photographs by French pornographers. And this time, they came to stay.

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