The High Heel: From French Mistresses to Ferragamo
July 23, 2018 8:41 p.m.
By Helen Schultheis
The High Heel: From French Mistresses to Ferragamo, in short, has historically shaped the shoes we walk in today! Well, it’s not such a short answer. Footwear is ever-evolving, with nobility, war, the discovery of new lands, industrialization, recessions, sports and feminism shaping the styles we walk in today. You may be surprised to learn the origin of your favorite boots and heels have had a colorful past. In ancient times, Roman gladiator sandals and Japanese foot binding were de rigeur, but let’s begin our story in the European courts of 1500’s.
Enjoy this short video that sums it up! Especially if you’re in a hurry!!! Double-click and you’re good to go!
Women’s Shoes – Timeline
It Started With Catherine de Medici
In this golden age of nobility, Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, was famous for inventing the high heel. Catherine’s husband’s mistress was taller than she, so she added several inches to her shoes, sharing the new model with the French court. Consequently, the high heel (which looked rather like today’s mule) was born from a jealous queen with a sexual agenda.
Oh, That Louis!
In the 1600’s, moccasins were discovered in the New World, and shipped back to Europe. The 1700’s belonged to the sun king, the fashionable King Louis XIV of France. Louis is known for popularizing a red heel (precursor to Louboutin) using imported leather, as well as the ornate 3-4 inch ‘Louis heels.’ Later in 1750, Madame de Pompadour, a mistress of Louis XV, coined the pointy boudoir shoe ‘Pompadour heels.’
While the royals romped around in their pastel embroidered shoes inside the palace, peasants wore simple, more practical leather lace-up ankle boots (sound familiar?) and buckle shoes.
The Duke of Wellington and the “Wellie!”
Moving into the 1800’s Industrial Revolution in England, a growing middle-class gives way to a larger and more diverse footwear industry. In 1815, Wellington boots are popularized by the distinguished Duke of Wellington; they appear first as leather hunting boots and later evolved into rubber “wellies” (Hunter boots, anyone?).
Keds to the Rescue!
The 1900’s deliver leather boots for working women— after WWI, women’s shoes become lower and more practical in the first half of the century (yay Rosie the Riveter!) The 30’s bring us a myriad of new styles from beach sandals, to sneakers, and Ferragamo’s inventive cork wedges, created from the only material he could find during Italy’s fascist regime.
The Era of the Stiletto
In 1955, a renowned European collaboration between Roger Vivier and Christian Dior gave birth to the “stiletto.” What a blessing—or curse, depending on how you see it— for the modern woman. Around the same time in America, luxe loafers were made for preppy patrons watching sporting events. Loafers and smoking slippers are still popular today, worn casually with jeans or with a dress to the office. During this time, America’s version of royalty, Marilyn Monroe, started wearing a shoe that has always been fit for a princess, the mule. Today, the mule is back in fashion, and the “go to” shoe for many of Instagram’s influencers.
After a decade of luxe shoes, the music, politics and social revolution of the 60’s gave way to GoGo Boots, platforms and moccasins. Feminists and liberated women frowned on overt sexuality in favor of bohemian comfort— they decided to wear their bell bottoms with sandals or wedges. In 1979 Nike Air was born, changing sport shoes forever with their shock absorption technology.
We have Jane Fonda and hip-hop musicians to thank in the 80’s for colorful trainers of all kind!
The 90’s are notorious for androgynous, casual shoes with prominent brand names, such as Uggs, Doc Martins, Converse. Men’s brogues make a comeback in the 2000’s and are worn with skinny jeans and vintage floral dresses.
And where does that leave us today? I’m happy to announce, what goes around comes around! We’re guessing that you have some version of the aforementioned shoes in your closet. With so many shoe designers and with such a wide variety of lifestyles, there are more colors, heel heights, and styles than ever before! Whether you don ancient Roman-inspired sandals with a straw bag for the beach, 90’s trainers with ripped jeans for the weekend, or stilettos with a floral dress for a wedding, your footwear has had a wild and wonderful history.
For a shoe fanatic, it’s a delightful time to be alive.