Hold your horses
Contrary to popular belief that European royalty started to wear high-heels in the 16th century to make them taller – and, hence, the term “well-heeled” – elevated shoes can be traced back to Persians warriors. The heels gave them better stability on horseback and allowed them to be more precise when shooting arrows.
Men’s high-heels of that era generally came in at about 3.8 cm. Think cowboy boots and you get the idea.
As heels evolved, the trend was thick heels for men and thin ones for women. As always, the elite tried to maintain their status with higher shoes when the poor and the workers started to copy them. Eventually men – except for those wanting a small boost in height – gave up wearing high heels, but that doesn’t mean they won’t become fashionable again at some point.
The highs and lows
High-heels have gone in and out of fashion for centuries, but since World War II, they have become a staple item on the catwalk and at the office for women. A low heel is classified as one that is between 2.5 cm to 6.4 cm; high comes in at 6.4cm to 8.9cm. Anything over that is virtually impossible to walk in and slides into fetish or jewelry categories.
According to The Spine Health Institute, 72 percent of women wear high heels at one time or another: special occasions, parties, and dances. And 31 percent of women wear heels to work every day.
Types of heels
Like everything else fashion oriented, heels have their seasons. Names like Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik are shoe-gurus to those in the know and their fans eagerly await their next collections.
Heels may be pumps – or court shoes – stilettos or platforms. Colors, shapes and heel shapes may come and go, but the basics stay the same. One year platforms may be all the rage, only to be dumped the following year in favor of pumps.
Why do women wear heels?
The easy answer is that they are sexy. The higher the heel the more there is a forward bending at the hips. As a result of this imbalance the calf, hip and back muscles have to tense up to compensate.
Heels also ensure that a woman walks slower and moves her body more provocatively. Heels are sexy, trainers aren’t.
The Urban Dictionary defines a parphilla – the technical term for shoe fetish – as an unusual fixation on high heel shoes and/or boots. Some men develop a shoe fetish and may visit a Dominatrix to live out their fantasies of high heels.
The average woman has about 20 pairs of shoes. Others, however, develop an obsession and own hundreds of pairs of shoes that may never get out of the box or the closet. One theory is that while women may gain weight and have to buy bigger clothes, their feet generally stay the same size, so hence the compulsion to buy shoes.
Crossing the sex divide
One group of men who do wear high heels as part of their ensemble are cross-dressers and transgenders.
Carmen Rupe – a well-known drag queen in the antipodes – always wore heels when she worked as a snake and belly dancer in the 1960 and 70s. Later in life, however, she had to abandon her precious shoes for more sensible footwear.
Similarly, Bob/bi, a cross-dresser in New Zealand wouldn’t think of going out without his heels, although he goes with low to medium heels, rather than stilettos. “Wearing heels is a very important part of feeling feminine. And without them it just doesn’t work. The one thing tragic cross-dressers need to learn is how to walk in heels. Women start when they are young and it becomes natural to them to be able to balance. For men, however, it is a skill that has to be practiced.”
Heels in the developing world
High heels in Africa and Asia are status symbols. Remember Imelda Marcos from the Philippines, for example, is rumored to have had over 3,000 pair of shoes?
Unless women are rich enough to have a car and driver, heels are totally impractical where there aren’t any good sidewalks. When riding small motorcycle or taking public transport, some third world women carry their heels in a bag to be put on at the venue. That way they can still look stylish. The high-heel quality tends to be inexpensive plastic, rather than leather.
Harm from heels
Dr. Natalie Nevins, an osteopathic physician warns that prolonged high-heel wear can cause damage. Included under this rubric are falls, lower back pain, nerve damage, bunions and sciatica.
Pregnant women may also want to wear flats as the altered position of having the hips trust forward isn’t good for the fetus.
Sexy or sensible?
Ultimately, it is up to each woman to make an informed decision about her appearance. A good balance might be sensible during the day and sexy for special occasions.