If Women Knew These Historical Tidbits About High Heels, Would They Still Wear Them?

Chie Davis Curated by

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Men introduced women to this invention many, many moons ago. And whether you love or loathe heels, pumps, or stilettos, it's pretty awesome to know who wore them first (guys) and what they were initially used for. Because when it comes time to smack patriarchy in the face — with whatever kicks we're into — it's good to have our facts straight.

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Narrator: Have you ever wondered why women go to all the trouble, not to mention the pain, of wearing high heels? Ow, ow, ow, ow. Well fellas, guess what? You started it.

So starting in the middle ages, wealthy men and women began wearing these platform shoes called chopines, more for practicality rather than any Lady Gaga-esque fashion statement. The reason they wore these platform shoes was to literally elevate them out of the poop in the streets! In that regard, thank goodness for the high heels.

Now fast-forward into the 1600s. Men were really the first ones to adopt high heels as a status symbol. They were these shoes that you would wear if [pompous voice] you were a very fancy and successful man, and you wanted to show the world that you were literally above them.

Louis XIV in fact loved high heels so much that he came up with a signature red bottom for all of his shoes. If you were a member of Louis XIV's court, and you did not get his prior permission and he caught you walking around with some red-bottomed shoes, well, you would be out. We have someone here who has red-bottomed shoes, and they must be going to the guillotine. Louis XIV, why do you have such a strange accent?

Now the funny thing was, women in the 1630s also started wearing high heels as a form of protest against men's more powerful positions in society. Which now, seems a little bit silly. They didn't know that hundreds of years later women would be wearing high heels all the time and getting pump bump and callouses and broken toes as a result of it.

And as women began wearing high heels because they were all like, "Anything a guy can wear, we can wear, and better," guys were like, "Woah, woah, woah. Ladies, those are dude shoes, okay?" In order for men to differentiate their high heels from women's high heels, men kept wearing a chunkier style of high platform shoe, whereas women began to adopt the spikier, more slender heal that we think of today.

But then, when the Enlightenment roles around, people are all like, "We need to worry about our brains rather than our clothes. I don't even care abut high heels anymore!" And so, with the Enlightenment, high heels fell out of fashion and nobody wore them for a while, until the mid-19th century when, and this is getting a little dodgy, pornographers dressed up female nudes with high heels to accentuate their feminine figures, and thus high heels come back, slowly into vogue, and just for women. So, thanks a lot, mid-19th century pornographers.

But it's interesting though, that it's pornographers who are attributed with bringing high heels back into female fashions, because it was status before sexiness. But I wonder, due to that connotation between female nudes in the mid-19th century and the high heels, if that's where we really start getting this connection between women wearing high heels in order to feel sexy.

Some evolutionary biologists think that women have worn high heels now for centuries because it does something to our bodies that drives men bonkers! In 2012, some researchers at the University of Portsmouth determined that high heels in fact produce something called a supernormal stimulus. [noises] An exaggerated secondary sex trait that you would normally find in nature. Secondary sex traits in women are things like breasts and the shape of our bodies.

And researchers determined that, based on comparing women's bodies walking on a treadmill in flats, and then in high heels, ow ow ow, high heels do three things to women. It shortens our gaits, exaggerates the curve of our pelvis, poking out our breasts and our butts. And for all of this, these Portsmouth researchers concluded that perhaps women wearing high heels is a modern mating strategy.

So to answer the question of Why do women wear high heels. Guys started doing it, and so women adopted it, and then it came back into vogue because of pornography, and we associated female sexiness with it, and so we continue to wear them. And perhaps, undergirding all of this is some evolutionary biology saying, "Hey ladies. You know one way you can make yourself more attractive in the wild? Put on a pair of these."

I think it's time for guys to reclaim the high heel. Come on men! Don't you wanna, don't you wanna walk a mile in these shoes? It was good enough for Louis XIV.

There may be small errors in this transcript.
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I found this super-entertaining history lesson on "Stuff Mom Never Told You" from How Stuff Works. To learn more about the high-heel evolution as it relates to gender, check out this article. Thumbnail image via Thinkstock.

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