The Evolution of the

High Heel Shoe

Fashionable Footwear Reaches New Heights

Longer legs, sex appeal, and added height are some of the many reasons women squeeze their fragile feet into fashionable high heels day after day. In fact, the American Podiatric Medical Association reports that 72% of women wear high heel shoes - with 39% of women wearing heels daily.1

The survey goes on to report that if you're in the majority of women that wear high heels more often than not, you may be younger and prone to wearing uncomfortable shoes.

But as the saying goes, "Beauty is pain." If you're nodding your head in agreement with that sentiment, you may be wearing fashion-forward high heels as we speak.

Yes, fashion is the name of the game

And that's the main reason that 82% of the women surveyed prefer to wear high heels1


of women wear heels to complete their professional attire

of women wear heels to look sexier or more attractive

of women wear heels to enhance their legs

of women wear heels to appear taller

Where do you fit in this stylish group?

You may wear high heels for one or more of the reasons listed above. You may have a closet full of heels for every occasion that are just screaming to be worn.

High heels aren't just a frivolous fashion statement. Beyond beauty, did you know that high heels could provide you with one major benefit in the form of cold hard cash? It's true - most shoe designers will push high heels to feed a woman's ego.

If you want sexy, sleek, lean legs, why not wear heels on your next date?

Yet according to German shoe designer Deichmann Graceland, high heels in the workplace can serve an even greater purpose: To increase a woman's height so that she can score that big promotion.

Graceland's captivating ads claimed that 80% of top company managers are over 180 cm tall, or 5'10".

This means that the average German woman would need a 6 inch heel to attempt to compete with the big dogs and even be considered for a promotion.


Is it true? Could a 6 inch heel be all that stands between you and your dream job?

6 ft man

A 2009 Australian study suggests that a height of 6 feet in a man could increase his annual salary by almost $1000 compared to a man who was 2 inches shorter.3

If the perfect high heel shoe works to instill confidence in women and improve performance in the workplace, then it's done its job. However, it's hard to ignore the fact that "taller people make more money", as one study puts it.

If you buy into this theory, the potential pain that comes from wearing uncomfortable heels may be a small price to pay. The Australian study asserts that "taller people are perceived to be more intelligent and powerful." Adding a fabulous pair of high heels into the mix could be enough to help you climb the next rung of the career ladder. It's worth a shot!

Even if you're the type that says "more money, more problems", it may be hard to kick your high heel obsession to the curb.

There are a number of reasons why women are addicted to high heel shoes - in spite of the potential pain they may cause. Researchers estimate that the average high heel can start to cause foot pain after just one hour, six minutes, and 48 seconds of wearing it. 20% of women start to feel pinching after only 10 minutes of slipping on a high heel.4

Some of the most common foot problems

experienced by heel wearers include:4
Cracked heels
Ingrown toenails
Joint problems

If your response to these statistics is,
"Been there, done that, got the T-shirt!"
then you may be one of the many women that ascribes to the
"no pain, no gain" philosophy

There's a reason why high heels have been worn as early as 3500 BC. And fashion certainly has something to do with it.

You heard that right - the first instances of high heel wearing were recorded in early Egypt in 3500 BC. Around that time, depictions of high heel shoes could be seen etched in murals on Egyptian temples and tombs.

So how did the ancient high heel get to where it is today? We're glad you asked. We'll discuss the ups and downs of the historical high heel in the next section.

The Early History of the High Heel Shoe

After the high heel was spotted on archaic Egyptian trendsetters, the shoe style was not to be forgotten. Early milestones of the high heel include:

200 BC

Roman theater actors wore platform
sandals made from cork or wood.


During the Middle Ages and time of the bubonic plague, men and women began to wear high wooden soles, or pattens, on cheap shoes to stay clean on the dirty streets.

1000 AD

The bouquet toss tradition was inspired by high heel shoes worn by the bride at Saxon weddings. The father of the bride would offer the bride's high heel shoes to the groom as a transfer of authority. The shoes would then be thrown to the bridesmaids, and whoever caught them would be the next to marry


King Henry II of England wore pointed toe, high heel shoes, rumored to hide his deformed toes.


The Knights of Richard the Lionhearted adopted the style to wear curved pointed toe, high heel shoes to keep their feet in stirrups when riding horses.


Pointed toe, high heel fashion increased in popularity; kings and princes were known to wear toe lengths of up to 30 inches.


The first mention of modern high heels was recorded when worn by the bride and Italian noblewoman Catherine d’Medici in French Court as she introduced Renaissance Italian fashion to France.


Bloody Mary, a.k.a. Queen
Mary I of England, often wore
high heels; this spread the
popular trend to the men and women of England.


The term "well-heeled" was used to describe
a notable person of authority.


Chopine shoes (originally created in Turkey) were popularized in France, Spain, and Italy in this century. Shoe heights hit up to 24 inches and required two servants to support a woman exiting a gondola.


King Louis XIV's shoemaker Nicholas Lestage crafted fashionable high heels that depicted a decorative battle scene with a 5 inch heel, often called the "Louis" heel.


Petit Madame de Pompadour popularized high and narrow shoe heels in the court of King Louis XV.


Shoe heel heights dropped after the French Revolution to a maximum of 2 inches since they were seen as a frivolous symbol of wealth; Marie Antoinette was executed wearing 2 inch heels.


Four different types of high heels were developed - knock-on, stacked, spring, and the re-introduced Louis heel.


Queen Victoria of England sported the first pair of high heel boots for women; popularity soon spread throughout Europe.


High heel popularity surged again; the invention of the sewing machine encouraged a greater variety in high heel design and style.


The first high heel factory opened in New York and quickly beat out the chic French-made high heel shoes worn by American women.


British-born pump high heel shoes were popularized in America.


Western high heels were manufactured lower and wider with influence from the Great Depression.


High heels remained medium-height and thick as luxury items were rationed in World War II.

This sparked high heel popularity in France to signify status and wealth, not too far thrown from high heels as a cultural status symbol today.

Both men and women wore high heels

What a ride! Up until the 1900s, high heel shoes
ebbed and flowed in popularity.

The development of the high heel depended directly on the economy and culture of the time, as well as the influence of notable authority figures that adopted high heel fashion.

You may have noticed one important fact that stuck out in the early high heel timeline: Both men and women wore high heels. In fact, it was King Louis XIV that first popularized the 5 inch "Louis" heel! Yet today, high heels on the average man are unheard of.

Once the lower classes began wearing heeled shoes, the aristocrats were forced to increase their heel heights to stand out. The high heel was readily worn by aristocratic men as a status symbol to separate them from the common field worker in a low heeled shoe.

Men stopped wearing high heels by 1740

What happened in the past 300 years, and when did high heels for men go out of style?

Although high heels are considered uncomfortable and even vain today, Persian soldiers wore them centuries ago as riding footwear, according to Elizabeth Semmelhack of Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum.5 Persian heeled shoe styles soon influenced shoe fashion in Western Europe, especially footwear worn by the aristocratic society.

Ironically, women began wearing high heels in the 1600s to add a masculine appeal to their attire. Soon enough, women's high heels grew more slender and feminine to separate them from men's stacked high heel shoes. Always cyclical, men's fashion became more practical in the Enlightenment period; women took the opportunity to embrace "irrational fashion" in the high heel, now considered effeminate and frivolous.

But the love affair with the high heel wasn't over just yet.

For women, the coveted high heel would soon become an iconic fashion piece as new designers embraced the shoe and took it to new heights.

The High Heel Revolution: 1950’s and Beyond

“I don't know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot.”
- Marilyn Monroe

The 1950s were a major decade of importance for the high heel shoe thanks to the invention of the stiletto heel.

Within the last 60 years, the high heel shoe has yet again resurged as a trademark symbol of fashion, culture, and class.


In 1955, French fashion designer Roger Vivier invented the sky-high, ultra-slim stiletto heel (named after the stiletto knife) while working at Dior. Modern high heels were re-popularized by Hollywood starlets like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, sealing the deal in high heel sex appeal.


Stiletto boots became popular in Italy and were paired with short skirts in the early 60s. The low kitten heel rose in fashion to compete with the sharp stiletto; with so many options, women customarily wore high heels all day, every day.


Move over, stiletto, and make way for chunky platform shoes! The 1970s were unique since high heel platforms were again worn by both men and women at the disco.


Manolo Blahnik revitalized skyscraper stiletto heels in avant-garde styles; popular TV shows like Dynasty and Dallas brought back trademark high heels for every occasion. High heels were seen as statement footwear when paired with the signature 1980s power suit.


Christian Louboutin could also be accredited with the return of stiletto fashion in the 1990s/2000s, known by his famous red-bottomed high heels.


High heel heights
were not to be
inventive hybrid heels were introduced, such as high heel flip flops and tennis shoes. Manolo Blahnik once again broke the mold with "heelless" high heels introduced in 2006.

High-fashion heels remained prevalent with new designs from Jimmy Choo and Gucci; designers classified:
Low heels
as below 2.5 inches
Mid heels
as 2.5-3.5 inches
High heels
at over 3.5 inches

"High heels are pleasure with pain."
- Christian Louboutin

Just one more reason to buy that pair of heels you've been eyeing in the window!

By the time that the 21st Century rolled around, it was no longer shameful to suffer from a "high heel fetish", thanks to popular shows like Sex and the City. High heels were finally celebrated as a fun fashion statement and must-have accessory for all women

The new millennium also brought with it a high heel health breakthrough for women. By now, women had heard more than enough about how high heels were bad for the health of the feet and back. But one 2008 study pointed out that wearing high heels regularly could actually improve muscle tone in a woman's pelvic floor to ease urinary incontinence.6

Today's modern high heel fashion

Can be broken down into several styles that are commonly worn by women in all walks of life:


Inarguably one of the most popular high heels of all time, known for its pencil-thin, dagger-like heel to lengthen even the shortest legs.


A classic tapered heel with a pointed toe that has been popular for over a century; a standard pump heel is slightly thicker than a stiletto heel.


A high heel shoe with a twist, a peep-toe heel merges pump and sandal styles to show "a little bit of toe" with every step.


A solid heel throughout the length of the foot to add height in a casual setting; may be preferred by women who aren't comfortable in uber-tall stilettos.


A throwback to the 1970s that adds all-over height in varying styles, including pumps and wedges.

"You put high heels on and you change."
- Manolo Blahnik
But high heel styles don't stop there!
More variations of high heels below for even more variations of the all-time-favorite high heel, for weddings or everyday life:

ballet flats

These are popular for warm-wather wear and comfy to boot.


These open shoes are more casual than close toed shoes.

kitten heels

Short heels are still slenderizing but also easier to walk in.

cowboy boots

Rustic and fun, these shoes come in all shapes and sizes.


Easy to slip on and secure, you can dance all night without worrying.

High Heel Fashion Gone Wrong

High heel history has come a long way, which is not to say that high heel fashion is without its
share of pitfalls. In an effort to outdo one another, some high heel designers have come up
with heels that are nothing short of ridiculous. You've probably seen such atrocities on
high-fashion runways or maybe at a recent trip to the mall worn by a well-meaning

High heel fashion can and will go wrong.

Case in point - reverse high heels. Outrageous "Scary Beautiful" reverse heels were
created by artist and designer Lyall Coburn to "challenge current beauty ideals by a big
and unexpected new beauty standard."

While hardly practical in real life, who are we to judge such an inventive high heel design that could become the cultural norm in just a few centuries? If you think back to the first sky-high "Louie" heel introduced at 5 inches tall, it was likely to have been a shocker that rocked the country the first time it was worn out in public.

Other stranger-than-fiction high heel styles that have made recent headlines include:

High heels fashioned as horse hooves with faux horsehair.

Fully spiked high heels for the "porcupine" effect.

Glass-bottom platform high heels containing live insects.

Rugged high heels fashioned out of wire and metal strips.

Giraffe-patterned heels supported with two life-like, miniature giraffe legs on each heel.

Now that's a passion for fashion!

In years past, Lady Gaga was captured taking a major spill in her higher-than-high heels at the airport. When upright, she's been seen sporting above-average height platform heels, even after a hip operation.

Wearing even regular high heels may seem like a fashion leap for many, but try telling that to Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga is well-known for her "out-of-the-box" fashion sense, to put it mildly. She is often the first to don strange new styles that may not be worn by the average heel-lover.

As one of the biggest pop stars to sweep the nation in decades, many fashion experts attribute a newfound national obsession for "crazy shoes" to this pop diva.


Lady Gaga's shoe designer Noritaka Tatehana has seen an influx in business for his towering footwear, combining modern platforms and geisha style, with individual pairs sold to the tune of $15,000.

Lady Gaga may be to blame for the focus on couture high heel fashion that can often border on ridiculous. She is in good company with a number of other fashion-forward, high-heel-loving celebrities, like Sarah Jessica Parker, Rihanna, Gwen Stefani, and Beyoncé.

"Sometimes you have to sacrifice your performance for high heels."
- Gwen Stefani

If you're one of the many women that simply can't live without your Manolo's, rheumatologists recommend

mixing up the type of heel you wear for the best results.

If we can take any cues from these fashion obsessed celebs, it is that high heels are here to stay. High heels have been worn in some form or another throughout the length of history. In modern times, high heels are still celebrated as a fun, flirty, and often dangerous fashion accessory.

Since high heels have a tendency to wreak havoc on your feet when worn for decades, alternating the style of heel you wear can protect your precious tootsies. This may mean wearing ballet flats one day, kitten heels the next, and stilettos the rest of the week. At the end of a long day, you can give your feet a break and some much-needed TLC with a foot bath, massage, and pedicure.

Before signing off, here are a few more high-heel wearing tips to get the most out of your shoe:

Experts recommend limiting everyday high heels to 2 inches.

Add calf stretches and pelvic tilts to your exercise routine.*

Alternate high heels with comfort shoes throughout the day, such as when working at your desk.

Avoid pointed toe shoes for regular wear since they pinch the feet.

Buy heels with leather insoles or purchase inserts to keep your feet from sliding.

* To improve posture and prevent calf muscle shortening caused by prolonged heel wear.

The next time that you get ready to slip on your favorite pair of heels for a hot date, you may think twice about the significance of the high heel.

This fashion staple has come a long way over several thousand years and should be celebrated for what it is - a confidence-boosting expression of fashion, sex appeal, and elegance for every woman.

If you're looking for even more inspiration to rock a pair of flashy heels for a day at the office or a night out with friends, Christian Louboutin leaves us with his sage advice:
'How can I walk in these heels?'
I answer with the best compliment i remember that came from a woman who lives here in paris…i know my street much better. heels permit me to take the time to look at the architecture of my street. now i take time to look at things.
'High heels give you time to think, to look at your surroundings- a camel has seen more in life than a very quick horse! Women should live to rhythm of high-heeled shoes!'


  1. "High-Heel Stats - Technique - NAILS Magazine." NAILS Magazine: Dedicated To The Success Of Nail Professionals.
  2. "Statistics Say These High Heels Will Get You A Pay Raise - Business Insider." Business Insider.
  3. "Taller People Earn More Money | LiveScience." Science News – Science Articles and Current Events | LiveScience.
  4. "Are high heels really worth it? 9 in 10 women make the wrong choice and many suffer with pain in just an hour | Mail Online." Home | Mail Online.
  5. Kremer, William. "BBC News - Why did men stop wearing high heels?.="BBC - Homepage.
  6. Cerruto MA, Vedovi E, Mantovani W. Eur Urol. 2008 May;53(5):1094-5. Epub 24 January 2008.

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