The history of high heels started with them initially being a tool of war and dominance used by aristocrats; though there are records of Egyptians wearing heels. They were first popularised in Western cultures in the 15th century - when they were worn by Persians to stabilise themselves in their stirrups while shooting bow and arrow from the back of a horse. When high heels ended up in European countries, it was aristocratic men who were wearing heels to gain height, and thereby dominance and power.
The first women to wear heels were 16th-century Italian Courtesans. As high-ranking sex workers, they spent most of their time with men. As a result, they were supposed to be more relatable to men. This meant that they were allowed to follow masculine pursuits such as drinking, reading, smoking, and wearing heels. Perhaps that was the beginnings of the now common high heel fetish.
High heels were an androgynous and erotic symbol that these high-class sex workers were able to adopt due to their access to things “respectable” women could not even consider.
The history of high heels is pretty far from the Dominatrix we think of today.
The history of high heels started with Chopines - the precursors to platform heels that could be up to 10 inches in height and often required the help of men to get around. They became popular wear for courtesans and patrician women in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. The taller the chopine, the more fabric required to reach the ground - and the wealthier you were.
However, the adoption of heels by courtesans and high-ranking women did not keep them from being a male symbol of power. High heels were still a masculine fashion item in the 18th century when Louis XIV featured red-painted soles on his shoes (sorry, Christian Louboutin!) and allowed people who were close to him to sport similarly red soles.
During this time, women wearing heels was still thought of as gender-bending, and wearing traditionally masculine clothing and accessories was, as it still is, a fashion-stoked endeavour for aristocratic and high-class women.
When democracy became the trend in the 19th century, heels - gaining height over others - was considered “un-democratic” and they went out of fashion. It wasn't until the early 20th century when fetish photographers realised that heels made one’s rear look amazing that they started to become associated with women.
There are still elements of the masculine, dominance and power, in how we think about our high heel fetish. We associate them with strong women, especially the archetype of the femme fatale. There’s a reason why the domina is more commonly associated with sky-high heels than the innocent girl next door.
Caitlin is a writer, sex educator, consultant, and product reviewer who focuses primarily on issues of sex toy and accessory safety, pleasure, sexuality, gender, and more.
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