The History of High Heels: 10 Facts That Surprise You

High heels have long been a fashion statement, a symbol of power, and a fascination for people worldwide. These seemingly simple yet captivating footwear items have a rich history that spans centuries, marked by cultural shifts, changing ideals of beauty, and even political significance. In this exploration of "The History of High Heels: 10 Facts That Surprise You," we will delve into the intriguing journey of high heels, uncovering surprising tidbits that shed light on their evolution, cultural significance, and enduring allure. From their humble beginnings to their modern-day presence on runways and in everyday life, high heels have a story that is as fascinating as unexpected. Join us on this journey through time as we unravel the captivating narrative behind these iconic shoes.

History of High Heels

The history of high heels, from before women’s clear heels to stilettos and beyond, is a fascinating journey through time, marked by cultural shifts, changing fashion trends, and the evolving role of footwear in society. Here, we'll provide a concise overview of the history of high heels and aim to answer “why were heels invented” along the way:

  • Ancient Origins: High heels can trace their roots back to ancient civilizations. The first high-heeled shoes appeared in ancient Egypt around 3500 BCE, primarily worn by upper-class individuals to symbolize their elevated social status.
  • Persia and the Middle East: High heels made their way to Persia (modern-day Iran) in the 9th century. Persian cavalrymen wore heeled cowboy boots to help secure their feet in stirrups while riding horses. This practical purpose would later influence the spread of high heels.
  • European Renaissance: High heels gained popularity in Europe during the 16th century. European aristocrats, particularly men, adopted heeled shoes to signify prestige and stature. These shoes often featured intricate designs and materials, emphasizing their luxury.
  • Gender and Fashion: High heels eventually became a predominantly female fashion item, while men's footwear trended towards lower heels or flat shoes. The 18th century saw the emergence of stiletto heels and pointed toes for women, further emphasizing the gendered nature of high heels.
  • 19th and 20th Century: High heels remained an essential part of women's fashion throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. They underwent various stylistic changes, including the introduction of platforms in the 1930s and the stiletto's resurgence in the 1950s.
  • Modern Era: In the 21st century, high heels continue to be a symbol of femininity, power, and style. People wear them for formal and casual occasions, and designers constantly innovate to create unique and comfortable designs such as strapless heels, nude heelsand bikini competition heels.
  • Cultural Significance: Many reference sexy high heels in debates on gender, power dynamics, and body image, with some viewing them as empowering, while others criticize them for contributing to discomfort and unrealistic beauty standards.

Who Invented High Heels?

Although high heels came from ancient civilizations, it is challenging to pinpoint a specific individual who invented heels. High heels have evolved over thousands of years, with various cultures contributing to their development. Here's a brief overview:

  • Ancient Egypt: High heels can be traced back to around 3500 BCE in ancient Egypt, where both men and women wore heeled sandals for ceremonial and symbolic purposes. These early high heels were not necessarily for practical use but served as a status symbol.
  • Persia (Modern-day Iran): High heels gained practical significance in Persia around the 9th century. Persian cavalrymen wore heeled boots to help secure their feet in stirrups while riding horses. This proper function of heels played a role in their spread to other cultures.
  • Europe: High heels made their way to Europe in the 16th century and became popular among the European aristocracy, particularly among men. The design and use of high heels in Europe evolved, with various styles and heights adopted.
  • King Louis XIV: King Louis XIV of France is often associated with popularizing high heels in the 17th century. He wore high-heeled shoes with distinctive red soles to symbolize his power and authority. His influence led to the widespread adoption of high heels in French fashion.

When Were High Heels Invented?

High heels, in various forms, have existed for thousands of years. Their invention date is challenging to pinpoint, as they evolved gradually across different cultures and periods. The earliest high-heeled shoes emerged in ancient Egypt around 3500 BCE, serving ceremonial and symbolic purposes.
However, these early heels were for something other than everyday use. Practical heeled footwear found its place in Persian culture during the 9th century, primarily as a tool for Persian cavalrymen to secure their feet in stirrups while riding horses. This functional aspect influenced the design and eventual spread of heels.
By the 16th century, high heels had made their way to Europe, initially worn by both men and women. European aristocracy, notably King Louis XIV of France, helped popularize them as a status symbol. In the 18th century, high heels began to take on more gender-specific roles, becoming a prominent feature of women's fashion. Throughout the 20th century, heels continued to evolve, with new styles and materials introduced.
In the modern era, high heels remain a fashion staple, constantly reinvented by designers for various occasions and cultural contexts.

10 Facts About the History of High Heels

Here are ten interesting facts about the history of high heels:

The First Great Shoe Designer was Francois Pinet

François Pinet, a French shoemaker from the 17th century, is celebrated as one of the earliest and most influential shoe designers in history. His pioneering work in footwear, particularly high heels, marked a significant shift in fashion during his era.
Pinet's creative genius, distinguished by his innovative designs, was a brilliant tangent from the conventional footwear of his time. He crafted high-heeled shoes with meticulous attention to detail, experimenting with various materials, shapes, and ornamentation. These shoes transcended mere utility; they became coveted fashion statements. His pivotal role in popularizing high heels during the 17th century in France truly sets Pinet apart. His designs were favored by aristocrats and the elite, establishing a trend that would endure for generations. Pinet's high heels were not just stylish; they symbolized prestige and elevated societal status.
In essence, François Pinet's legacy as the first great shoe designer underscores the transformative power of fashion. His innovative approach to high heels left an indelible mark on footwear, shaping its aesthetics and cultural significance. His work is a testament to visionary designers' enduring influence in shaping fashion history.

Heeled Shoes were Originally Designed for Medieval Soldiers

High heels, initially designed for medieval soldiers, had a practical purpose rather than a fashion statement. These footwear innovations emerged to assist Persian and European soldiers in maintaining stability while riding horses. The raised heels effectively secured their feet in stirrups, preventing slips and offering crucial support during battles and maneuvers. It is a testament to the adaptability of fashion that these utilitarian creations evolved to become the stylish and iconic high heels we know today. The transition from battlefield to runway highlights how functionality can transform into fashion, transcending its original purpose.

Their Height was Regulated by Law

In the 17th-century European fashion landscape, the height of heels wasn't merely a matter of personal choice but was subject to strict legal regulations. These sumptuary laws dictated that the height of one's heels correlated with social status. The higher the heel, the more pronounced one's prestige and privilege. Consequently, wearing high heels became an overt symbol of one's elevated societal position, reflecting wealth and class. This historical perspective highlights how fashion choices were not only personal expressions but were also codified by law, emphasizing the significant role that high heels played as a status symbol during that era.

They Almost Disappeared

During the French Revolution in the late 18th century, high heels fell out of favor. The revolution brought about a rejection of aristocratic symbols, including high-heeled shoes. They nearly disappeared from fashion during this period, only to later make a comeback in the 19th century.

Men Wore Them First

Surprisingly, when first designed, high heels were for men. Across different cultures, from Persia to Europe, men were the pioneering wearers of heeled footwear. These early wear heels served practical functions, such as enhancing stability while riding horses and signifying social status. It wasn't until later that it shifted into the domain of women's heels fashion, marking a significant transformation in gender-specific attire. This historical reversal underscores the fluidity of fashion trends, as what began as a practical choice for men ultimately became a symbol of femininity and style, reshaping the trajectory of footwear design and societal norms.

World War 2 Reintroduced High Heels

World War II played a surprising role in reintroducing high heels into fashion when everyone preferred wearing flat shoes. Shortages of materials like leather during the war led to the creation of wooden and cork platform shoes with high heels, known as "wedges." These wartime innovations helped maintain the popularity of high heels and laid the foundation for later designs.

They Used to Avoid Garbage

In the 16th century, European streets played host to sewage and garbage. Wearing heels became a practical choice for men and women to avoid the unsanitary mess. The added height helped keep their feet above the filth that littered the streets.

Stilettos Were Named After A Knife

"Stiletto" for high-heeled shoes derives from the Italian word "stiletto," which means a slender, pointed dagger or knife. Stilettos, known for their extremely thin and sharp heels, earned their name due to the resemblance to the knife's shape. They became popular in the mid-20th century as a symbol of feminine allure and sophistication.

Drag Queens Took Back the Heel

In drag culture, wearers have embraced high heels as a symbol of empowerment and self-expression. Drag queens have played a pivotal role in reclaiming and celebrating high heels, using them as a powerful tool to challenge gender norms and stereotypes. These performers often showcase extraordinary creativity and artistry through their choice of high-heeled shoes.

High Heels were a Kingly Fashion

Throughout history, high heels meant royalty and nobility. Kings, including King Louis XIV of France, were among the earliest adopters of high heels as a symbol of their elevated status and authority. High heels became a kingly fashion statement in many royal courts, reinforcing their image as a mark of prestige and power where royal women wear heels.


The history of high heels is a captivating journey through time, marked by innovation, practicality, and symbolism. From their origins in ancient civilizations as functional and symbolic footwear to their evolution into fashionable accessories, high heels have left an indelible mark on fashion and culture. Notably, they have played roles in social status, gender expression, and even wartime resilience.
High heels have weathered changing fashion trends, sumptuary laws, and cultural shifts, almost disappearing at times but constantly reemerging with new designs and cultural significance. The fact that they were initially designed for men, used to avoid unsanitary conditions on the streets, and became a symbol of royal authority underscores their multifaceted history.
Furthermore, high heels have been a part of women's fashion and embraced by drag queens as a form of empowerment and self-expression. Their rich history and enduring allure inspire designers and wearers alike, making high heels more than just a fashion statement—they are a testament to the ever-evolving nature of human expression and identity.