Fashion & Status

Why did men stop wearing heels?

Portrait of Louis XIV

Portrait of Louis XIV (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This article made my day. It answered questions that I’d long been wondering about. I think it might even answer why our society is the way it is now.

I grew up in a world that had fairly strict/conservative gender fashion & beauty rules. Girls seemed to be entitled to wear any colour but a boy most certainly couldn’t have any ‘girly’ colours, such as pink. Girls can wear trousers (I preferred not to because I thought it was ‘boyish’, and found dresses and skirts prettier and gave me far more freedom to move about in) but boys can’t wear dresses and skirts (I remember boys/men would poke fun at Middle Easterners or Indians, for instance, for wearing ‘dresses’ and Scots for wearing ‘skirts,’ properly known as kilts). Men shouldn’t wear make-up and if he has some sort of skin-care regimen, he’s metrosexual (here, men would call my European male friends girly guys or even ‘gay’) or homosexual. In other words, if a male does anything that is similar to what a female would do, he’s not male enough. Not macho. Of course, in recent times, pink seems to have made a come back and more and more men are wearing the hue (which, ironically, had been a boy’s colour at one time). Things are slowly changing but it seems, a man must still be prepared to defend himself or be brave enough not to care.

I started to think recently that we are actually living in a backwards ultra-conservative world. What had long been accepted for centuries is suddenly not ‘cool’. Today, people are still fighting for their rights to wear a certain colour, a certain type of clothing/accessory, etc. when all the while, it was just the reverse a century or two ago (if not more), where our ancestors fought for the rights to do the opposite! My questions are: did we become more conservative in the 20th Century? Are we going to be less conservative in the 21st Century? Will we have unisex clothing? Will men be able to wear ‘female’ clothing without being judged?

It seems to me that some men have tried and are still trying to preserve their dominance, even dictating the rules of fashion and beauty. Suddenly, I’ve started to think that men have been more oppressive to their own all along! I had very little idea of how fashion has had such a strong role signifying one’s status throughout history.

The following facts have been taken from the BBC article:

History of the High Heels

  • Origins: Persia (modern-day Iran)
    • Purpose: Riding footwear best for fighting
  • 16th C: Persian-style shoes enthusiastically adopted by aristocrats throughout Western Europe
    • Height of heel represented rank of aristocracy
  • History of the red soles: Heels and soles were red, which was an expensive dye. Louis XIV of France issues an edict in the 1670s that ‘only members of his court were allowed to wear red heels.’
    • Today: Louboutin‘s red heel symbolises wealth = power

    Français : escarpin "peep toe" Chris...

    Français : escarpin “peep toe” Christian Louboutin en cuir métallisé verni, talon de 140mm, modèle “Altadama” (semelle rouge) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Women liked to adopt men’s fashion. In adopting the heel, women were ‘masculinising their outfits.’
  • Until the end of the 17th C, there was a unisex shoe fashion among the upper class.
  • Age of Enlightenment brought about more practical men’s clothing
  • Great Male Renunciation saw men abandoning ‘the wearing of jewellery, bright colours and ostentatious fabrics in favour of a dark, more sober, and homogeneous look.’
    • By 1740, men had stopped wearing heels.
  • Heels fell out of favour with women after the French Revolution
  • Mid-19th C: Heels came back into fashion
    • Association with pornography during Victorian era led to heels seen as erotic
  • ‘1960s saw a return of low heeled cowboy boots for men and some dandies strutted their stuff in platform shoes in the 1970s.’

Here are 3 explanations on why heels are ‘sexy’, according to different women:

  • Association: When high heels came back into fashion in the late 19th C, they were seen as erotic footwear due to the fact that nude models on French postcards often wore them, according to Elizabeth Semmelhack.
  • Biology: Biological anthropologist Dr Helen Fischer of Rutgers University says that ‘heels force women into a “natural courting pose” found amongst mammals, with an arched back and protruding buttocks.’
  • Patriarchy: Radical feminist, Sheila Jeffreys, believes that heels are a way in which women are forced to ‘compensate for the lack of power that men may be having’ by transforming the way women’s bodies look (to please men), causing them pain, and preventing them from running away.

Now this question remains: will men return to wearing heels one day?

‘Absolutely,’ says Semmelhack.

‘Maybe not stilettos but certainly more height added to the heel!’ – me