History of High Heels: From Torture Devices to Fashion Must-Haves


A Walk Through the History of High Heels: High heels click-clack down runways, grace red carpets, and add a touch of confidence to our everyday strides. But have you ever stopped to wonder where these iconic shoes came from? The history of high heels is a fascinating journey that spans continents, cultures, and social classes. Buckle up, fashionistas, because we’re about to take a walk-through time, exploring the evolution of these elevated footwear wonders.

From Humble Beginnings

First High Heels
First High Heels

Contrary to popular belief, high heels weren’t invented for women. The earliest evidence of raised footwear dates back to 3500 BCE in ancient Egypt, where both men and women wore them for ceremonial purposes. Imagine these early versions as more like butcher’s blocks attached to sandals, not the sleek stilettos we know today (ancient Egyptians clearly weren’t concerned about comfort!).

A Step Up in Status

A Walk Through the History of High Heels
A Walk Through the History of High Heels

Fast forward to the 10th century, and high heels found a new purpose – horseback riding. Persian soldiers in the cavalry wore boots with raised heels for better stability in their stirrups, allowing them to stand and fight more effectively. This practical innovation eventually crossed paths with fashion, as wealthy men began wearing heeled footwear to signify their social status (think of it as the 10th-century equivalent of driving a luxury car).

High Heels Take Europe by Storm

A Walk Through the History of High Heels
A Walk Through the History of High Heels

By the 16th century, high heels had made their way to Europe courtesy of Persian emissaries. Initially, they were still a symbol of masculinity, particularly among the nobility like King Louis XIV of France, who even had a special shoemaker create heels specifically for him to appear taller (a shorter king just wouldn’t do, apparently!).

However, the tide began to turn in the 17th century. Women started embracing high heels, and by the 18th century, a clear gender divide emerged. Men’s heels became lower and chunkier, often incorporated into riding boots, while women’s heels became taller, narrower, and more decorative. These “chopines,” popular in Venice, could reach up to a staggering 24 inches! Imagine navigating a cobblestone street in those – a definite test of balance and a clear sign of wealth, as only those who didn’t have to work could afford such impractical footwear.

The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of the Stiletto

High Heels
High Heels

The 19th century saw a shift towards more practical heels, with a focus on stability and comfort. However, the 20th century ushered in the era of the iconic stiletto. Invented (or some say perfected) by Salvatore Ferragamo in the 1930s, the stiletto’s sleek, pointed heel and high arch redefined high heels, making them a symbol of elegance and femininity. Think of Hollywood legends like Marilyn Monroe rocking these beauties on the silver screen.

Stilettos faced some challenges in the comfort department (let’s be honest, they’re not exactly known for being podiatrist-approved), but their popularity continued to soar throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. From the platform heels of the 70s to the chunky wonders of the 90s, high heels have continued to evolve, reflecting changing trends and social movements.

Beyond the Shoe

High heels are more than just footwear; they’re a cultural symbol. They can represent power, confidence, and femininity. Think of a powerful businesswoman clicking down the street in her stilettos, or a woman feeling empowered and glamorous for a night out in her favorite high-heeled sandals. However, high heels can also be seen as a symbol of societal expectations and limitations placed on women. The discomfort associated with them can be seen as a metaphor for the pressure to conform to beauty standards.

The Future of High Heels

High Heels
High Heels

Today, the high heel landscape is diverse. We see a renewed focus on comfort, with brands incorporating ergonomic design features and offering a wider range of heel heights and widths. At the same time, the classic stiletto remains a timeless symbol of elegance. Ultimately, the choice of whether or not to wear high heels is a personal one. There’s no pressure to conform – the key is to find shoes that make you feel confident and comfortable, whether they’re sky-high stilettos or stylish flats.


From their humble beginnings in ancient Egypt to their current status as a fashion staple, high heels have come a long way. They represent innovation, social change, and of course, a whole lot of style. So, the next time you slip on your favorite pair of heels, take a moment to appreciate the rich history they embody. You’re not just wearing shoes; you’re walking in the footsteps of fashion icons and cultures past.

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Q1: Are high heels bad for your feet?

While high heels can add a touch of glamour, they can also put strain on your feet, ankles, and knees. Wearing them for extended periods can lead to pain, discomfort, and even long-term health problems. It’s important to choose shoes that offer good support and alternate between high heels and other, more comfortable footwear.

Q2: What are some of the most famous high heels in history?

The world of high heels is filled with iconic designs. From Marilyn Monroe’s white stilettos in “The Seven Year Itch” to Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahniks in “Sex and the City,” certain shoes have become cultural touchstones. The ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” also hold a special place in pop culture history.

Q3: How can I wear high heels comfortably?

There are a few tricks to help you navigate the world of high heels with more comfort. Choose shoes that fit well and offer good arch support. Opt for wider heels for increased stability. Invest in gel inserts for added cushioning. And remember, there’s no shame in taking breaks and switching to flats throughout the day!

Q4: Are high heels still in style?

Absolutely! High heels remain a versatile fashion staple. While trends may come and go, there’s always a place for a classic stiletto or a trendy platform heel. The key is to choose styles that complement your outfit and personal style.

Q5: Are there any alternatives to high heels?

Of course! The world of footwear offers endless possibilities. Kitten heels provide a stylish, lower heel option. Platform sandals add height without sacrificing comfort. And flats can be just as chic and sophisticated, depending on the style. Ultimately, the choice is yours!

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