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A Brief History of Men in Heels

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by Shannon Meyerkort (subscribe)
Writer. Storyteller. Mother. Find out more at shannonmeyerkort.com/ or join me at fundraisingmums.com.au
Published February 1st 2013
High Heels for the Man in Your Life
Ladies, long before there was Manolo and Jimmy, high heels used to be the domain of the lesser sex. That's right - men in heels.

It wasn't always kinky though (that came later), as in ancient times it was the Greek butchers who wore high heels. Their function: to keep the butcher's feet out of the blood of the animals they had just killed.

Manolo's for ladies (image by David Shankbone)


In Ancient Greece and Rome, male actors would wear their heels in varying heights to differentiate between the social statuses of the characters they were playing.

Some might consider this a reversal of the modern tendency of men to drive smaller and more powerful cars as their (alleged) social position increases.

As time continued, high heels once again took on function over form and during the Middle Ages men would attached wooden platforms to their shoes to elevate them above the detritus of the streets. After all, no one likes sloshing around in someone else's toilet water.

According to legend, in the 12th century, Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan wore distinctive red boots with wooden heels, probably helpful when crushing people.

However by the early 16th century, as life became more genteel and less likely to end after slipping into an open sewer, men started wearing lower heels (no more than two inches high) to keep their feet in the stirrups as they rode horses, a precursor to the modern 'cowboy boot'.

Thanks to some rather short-statured royalty part way through the 16th century, high heels quickly developed into a fashion item, and became popular for wealthy men and women, leading to the phrase 'well-heeled'.

Louis XIV in his dashing high heels (image from Wikipedia)


By the 1700s King Louis XIV was wearing massive five inch heels decorated with miniature battles scenes but the high heel as the height of fashion was destined to be short lived. By the end of the century Napoleon, paradoxically one of the shortest leaders in history, banned high heels altogether.

Ironically, the man who defeated him at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington, then gave his name to a calf-high boot with a low heel, thus agreeing with his defeated foe, in principal at least, on the exodus of the high heel for men.

Drag queens with much better legs than me (image from Agencia Brasil)


Men in heels disappeared for the next few centuries before a young man in a tight white disco suit donned some 'Cuban' heeled boots and discoed his way into infamy (and heels back onto men) in 1970. This was also the era of the disco drag queens such as Sylvester and the Glam Rockers, such as Bowie, whose heeled boots (and tight trousers) put today's ladies to shame.

Cowboy boots, very manly (image from Wikipedia)


The cowboy boot had also seen a resurgence by this stage, and although early 19th century boots were ostensibly wellington boots with a more pointed toe (easier to get into the stirrup when you need to chase a cow), it was Hollywood and the rise of the Westerns who were responsible for cowboy boots suddenly getting higher, fancier and let's face it, tarted up.

Today it would be easy to assume that high heels are the sole domain of women, thanks to such as Christian Louboutin, Monolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Roger Vivier and Sergio Rossi.

But while there are now specialist footwear designers who make 'discreet' high heels and platform shoes for shorter men (called 'elevator shoes check them out, they've been endorsed by the Australian Bridal Service') there is a new trend of otherwise normal men who wear high heels.

Of course, the debate of what constitutes 'normal' is long and varied, but in the early years of the 21st century there have been news reports about men in Los Angeles who have started wearing high heels when they go night clubbing. No, they're not in drag, they're 'regular' blokes. "It's a power thing,' one was reported as saying. "It helps you see over the cattle", Ok, they're not very nice blokes, but they're still regular. Even famous designer Jimmy Choo himself has admitted to wearing high heels.

So, ladies keep peeking at your pumps and staring at your stilettos, just in the case the man in your life decides that he too, will be a man in heels.
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