Any good romantic comedy features the usually down-to-earth female lead dolling herself up and comically stumbling around the room in her high heels. Either that, or a fancy debutante convinces a man to buy her 5 pairs of heels at $2,000 a piece. High heels are definitely a staple of our culture that represents elegance, fashion, and strong ankles!
Would you believe that Egyptian butchers were the originators of high heel shoes, using them to walk through scores of dead animals without getting insides on
their outsides. It doesn’t necessarily conjure up the image of Julia Roberts at a ball in Pretty Woman but that’s what ancient Egyptian murals tell us. High heels as we know them today were actually brought into the mainstream in the 16th century, when an under 5 foot Catherine de Medici was to marry her much taller husband Henry II (Hey, she was only 14.) The bride-to-be worked with a local cobbler to fashion the shoes to give her a 2” boost.
The fad caught on and many classes of royalty began wearing the higher heeled accessories. High heels quickly became the “in” thing in shoe fashion during that era. Marie Antoinette was such a fan that she was even executed in a pair of 2 inch heels. “Well-heeled” became a phrase that designated a person as rich, wealthy, or royalty as the wearing of heels by men and women of wealth was a sign of class distinction. Yes, even men wore heels in ancient times, in fact Louis XIV even wore 5” heels with battle scenes painted on them.
Napoleon Bonaparte wanted everyone to appear equal and since heels represented a divide between the poor and wealthy, he banned them in the early 19th century. Heels were also referred to as a controversial footwear in the first settlers of America in Massachusetts, where any woman wearing them would be classified as a witch.
Heels Since Then
Heels have enjoyed an up and down popularity, almost from the time they were first cobbled together. Heels have made it through the great depression, enjoyed a popularity boost when mini-skirts and poodle skirts were popular and were banished when the woman’s movement deemed them sexist. In the 80’s and 90’s women dressed more professionally and business-like but high heel shoes have survived. Many women don’t take into consideration the long and rough road that heels have taken but the next time they get dressed for a wedding or fancy cocktail party, maybe they’ll pour out a little martini in honor of those Egyptian butchers.