History of High Heels

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High-Heeled Shoes

“Give a girl the right shoe and she can conquer the world” –Marilyn Monroe

Shoes in general have typically served as markers of gender, class, race, and ethnicity. No other shoe, however, has gestured toward leisure, sexuality, and sophistication as much as the high-heeled shoe. Often the last piece of an ensemble or the final detail to be added to an outfit, the high-heel is a wardrobe staple that has come a long way! The high-heel has transformed from a measure of class and wealth, to a serious fashion statement.

Egyptian murals tell us that butchers were the originators of high heels, using them to walk through scores of dead animals without getting insides on their outsides.
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Called “Louis heels,” they were often as tall as five inches. The king commanded that only nobility could wear heels that were colored red and that no one's heels could be higher than his own. Many women taped their feet to reduce their apparent size. Like the corset, high heels sculpted the body to make it appear more aristocratic, pure, refined, and desirable.

In 1791, the “Louis” high heels disappeared with the revolution, and Napoleon banished high heels in an attempt to show equality. Despite the Napoleonic Code against high heels, in 1793 Marie Antoinette, being the rule breaker that she was, was executed wearing two-inch heels.

The first settlers of America referred to high-heels as controversial and any women wearing them would be classified as a witch.

The Massachusetts Colony passed a law banning women from wearing high heels or they would be tried as a witch (Murstein 1974). It wouldn’t be until the mid 1800s when American’s would catch up to Europe shoe fashion.

In the 1860s, heels as fashion became popular again, and the invention of the sewing machine allowed greater variety in high heels. Victorians thought that the high heel emphasized the instep arch, which was seen as symbolic of a curve of a woman.

When high heels made their comeback, most were five- six-inch heels. As with corsets, high heels were claimed to be not only harmless, but also
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