History History of Fashion

High heels are extremely feminized, but did you know men wore heels first?

High heels are the shoes that many of us love to look at and hate to wear sometimes. I cannot tell you how many times I have looked at the high heels sitting in my closet and immediately picked out a pair of sneakers to wear instead. There is no doubt that high heels are commonly feminized and are seen as a stable form of footwear in women’s fashion. However, it is time for people to get over their shock when celebrities like Harry Styles, Jaden Smith, and Jimin from BTS wear heeled shoes for two reasons. For one, these guys’ sense of style is truly impeccable, and we all should be taking notes. And secondly, women were not the first to wear heels; men wore heels first!

Heels were first worn in the 10th century for a functional purpose. They were worn by the Persian cavalry to help keep their feet in their stirrups. Heels allowed the rider to use their weapons better and remain steady on their horse. By the 17th century, Persian men began wearing heels when they were not riding horseback. Wearing heels began to be a symbol of wealth, power, and money.

The 17th century is when heels began to appear in Western Europe. It is assumed that heeled footwear for men spread through political networks and trade from Asia to Europe. An example of this is when the Persian Shah sent a group of high-heeled soldiers to meet with leaders in Russia, Germany, and Spain. Subsequently, their visit sparked the adoption of Persian fashion.

High heels first entered the wardrobes of men who were a part of the upper-class or nobility. Their overall style was meant to draw attention to their legs. They wore tight colored stockings and britches loose enough to highlight their calves. The tightly fitting stockings, most importantly, emphasized their heels.

King Louis XIV of France is one of the most famous men who wore heels during that time. Heels were meant to make men appear taller and allowed them to tower over others. Under Louis’s rule in France, he passed an edict that decreed that only nobles could wear heels. The height of the heel and the color of the heel was used as an indicator of how privileged, respected, and wealthy the wearer was at the time.  The red heel showcased wealth and power because it showcased the lack of dirt on one’s shoe and that the wearer was rich enough not to get his shoes dirty. So, I am going to take a wild guess and assume that if King Louis XIV was around today, he be a big fan of Christian Louboutin’s.

Technically, the first known instance of a woman wearing heels was in the 16th century. The wearer was the overall badass Italian Queen of France Catherine de Medici. It has been claimed that she wore heels to appear taller at her wedding. However, the heel remained absent from women’s fashion for quite some time after. When women wanted to be perceived as taller, they typically wore platform shoes instead of heels. As someone who is 5’3, I am a big fan of platform sneakers or sneakers with a chunky sole to give me an extra bit of height, so I completely understand.

When women wore heels in the 1600s and most of the 1700s, it was not considered feminine. A woman wearing heels during the 17th century was considered to be borrowing from men’s wardrobe and fashion. It was not until the 18th century that society started truly feminizing heels and placing certain pieces of clothing into strict binary categories to separate men from women.

A few centuries ago, heels were considered men’s fashion. Now they are highly feminized. It goes to show how fluid fashion can be and that binary categories that associate certain clothing should not be considered unbreakable laws or as boundaries that can’t be moved. The meaning prescribed to certain pieces of clothing changes based on the meaning that we decide to give them during a specific time. In other words? Wear what you want. You should wear what you feel comfortable in and what makes you happy. When it comes to your personal fashion, ignore the rules, and be the person that makes the change that you want to see.

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By Tatayana Allen

Tatayana Allen is the Junior Love and Health Editor and journalist for The Tempest. During her time at the University of Virginia, she was a Media Studies major and a member of the Cavalier Marching Band. Tatayana loves anything related to fashion, music, and photography.