A lifetime critic of the self-inflicted pain of high heels, I’ve never understood why anyone would wear them when the risks involved are so well known. From ingrown toenails, back problems or arthritis, high heels are the epitome of impractical and the bane of podiatrists. The answer is actually quite complex and deeply entrenched within the historic tides of culture and acceptable behavior.
The shoe is intimately connected to changing fashions and beliefs relating to power, class and gender. While these days high heels are symbols of sexuality and femininity (and I would add, sheer madness), they were originally created as practical shoes for men – despite their inappropriateness for walking.
Surprisingly, the high heel originated in the Near East as a kind of riding boot, with a similar function as the block-heeled cowboy boot of today. As far back as the 10th century, the Persian army, who has been remembered for its mounted archers, used high-heeled shoes to ensure they wouldn’t fall off their saddle as they charged their enemies on horseback with their bow and arrow in hand.
“When the soldier stood up in his stirrups, the heel helped him to secure his stance so that he could shoot his bow and arrow more effectively,” explained Elizabeth Semmelhack, author of Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe and Senior Curator of the Bata Shoe Museum of Toronto, in the BBC.
Through trade relations and travels, the Persian high heel fashion spread to Europe, particularly thanks to…