“I don’t know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot.” So said sex icon Marilyn Monroe.
Who created? Why are they so popular? How have they survived for so long? These are the questions I ask myself when I think about high heels. One thing’s for sure, they have been around for a very long time and survived just about every fashion critic there is. Most women wear them and most designers design them. They come in many different shapes and sizes, are made out of just about every material and can go with almost everything, with the obvious exception of your gym kit. I suspect that every women over the age of eighteen must own at least one pair, but I can assure that the majority own many more!
High heeled shoes were originally invented in the late fifteenth century to stop horsemen’s feet slipping out of their stirrups. They were then adopted by the French nobility for everyday wear and that’s when they began to look more and more like the ones we see today. By the late 1800s heels were the normative style for men and women. Styles changed over the years with the height of the heel rising and falling but in the 1960s something completely new arrived; the pencil – thin stiletto heel. Names after the long, thin knives soldiers used to carry in their belts, stilettos took women’s shoes to new heights. Vivienne Westwood declared “I like to literally put women on a pedestal” which is exactly what stilettos did. It was amazing that such a thin heels could support the weight of the wearer and such was the pressure created on the base of the point that “No Stilettos” signs began to appear in municipal buildings because of the damage they did to the flooring!
With the 1970s and the advent if glam rock came platform shoes and boots where both the sole and heel were stacked so high it was hard for the foot to feel any contact with the ground – and frequently they lost it!
What made all of this possible was technology. In the last heels had been made out of wood and so if the heel was too high it would just snap under the weight of its wearer. The development of synthetic materials has allied designers to experiment with every more outrageous designs and styles.
One of Ralph Lauren’s most recent pieces has chains on the heel while Kurt Geiger has just introduced his enormous pink, red and orange wedges. In Harper’s Bazaar I recently spotted Jimmy Choo’s beautiful Niagra; covered in amazing silver Jew,s and gems, they have the most desirable 135mm Perspex heel.
Different styles of heels look good with different looks but, in my view, there are a couple of big fashion no-no’s: high shoes with thin heels never look great with a boot leg or flared jeans and nor do they really work with mid calf skirts when wedges and boots are best. Personally I think stilettos look best with a bodycon skirt, a tight dress or a great pair of skinny jeans.
Whatever they were them with, true fashionistas will happily ignore the fact that extreme shoe shapes cause bunions, corns and permanent foot deformities; that every day they run the risk of falling over in their prized Prada’s and badly spraining or even breaking an ankle. They would, however, be in good company; even practised celebrity high heel wearers have had shoe catastrophes: Naomi Campbell topples to the floor on the catwalk in 1933 whilst wearing Vivienne Westwood platforms and Sarah Jessica Parker took a tumble from her heels when running down a street in New York causing her to tear the tendons in her foot!
So why do women wear high heels when often they are very uncomfortable, difficult to walk in and positively dangerous? I think if you wear high heels people may perceive you in a different way; for instance, if you walked into a job interview wearing heels you may appear to be more sophisticated and mature. On a practical level there’s no doubt that some short people wear them to look taller and research tells us that 75% of women feel sexier when wearing heels but the main reason for wearing heels has to be because THEY ARE ALWAYS IN FASHION!
Luckily you don’t have to travel all over Britain to see a great selection of shoes. There is one place that houses thousands of styles by many different designers all under one roof and that is the Shoe Gallery at Selfridges in London’s Oxford Street. At the entrance there is a massive stiletto, taller than the average person and covered in glitter. As you round the corner all you can see for what seems like miles are heels, shoes and more heels! There are so many different designs and varieties that you just don’t know where to start! The most exclusive designers have their own miniature galleries filled with their own creations. Once you get your bearings, you really start to take in what’s around you and then a particularly amazing shoe might catch your eye and you are so intrigued you have to go over to it and get a closer look. In the rooms of the gallery that lead into another there is a heel for everyone from short ones to tall ones, glittery ones to plain ones, multicoloured to shiny black; there is a heel of every sort, shape and style.
Even though I am not yet the avid stiletto wearer I crave to be, metaphorically speaking I subscribe to the same outlook as Helena Christensen: ‘ I was born in high heels and I’ve worn them ever since’.