High-heeled shoes are
shoes which raise the
heel of the wearer's foot
significantly higher than the toes. When both the heel and
the toes are raised, as in a
platform shoe, it is generally not considered to be
a "high-heel." High-heels come in a wide variety
of styles, and the heels are found in many different shapes,
including stiletto, block, tapered, blade, and wedge.
Today, high-heels are typically worn in public only by
women, who may wear high-heels at work or on formal occasions.
High-heels have seen significant controversy in the medical
field lately, with many podiatrists seeing patients whose
severe foot problems have been caused almost exclusively
by high-heel wear.
Today's high-heels, regardless of the heel's shape, are
generally limited to women's footwear. Some men's footwear,
cowboy boots and shoes
with a Cuban heel are considered by some to be a high-heel,
even though neither tops 3" in the heel. What height
constitutes a "high-heel" has long been a point
of contention between those who wear very high-heels and
those who wear lower heels. Most high-heeled shoes have
heels between 2" and 3". Less popular are shoes
with higher heels, such as those above 4". Extremely
high-heeled shoes, such as those higher than 5", are
effectively worn only for display, and typically for the
shoe fetishists and/or the wearer.
There are many reasons why women desire to wear heels,
- the change in angle of the foot with respect to
the lower leg becomes elongated, and accentuates the
appearance of calves
- they make the woman appear taller (which may be
considered by the wearer to be either an advantage or
- one's legs look longer, which some may consider
- the change in gait and posture thrusts the buttocks
backwards, and causes the hips to sway more which some
find sexually attractive
- many heels, particularly sandals, make the sole of the foot visible.
- stiletto heels appear to some as a
However, many women shun these shoes because:
- high-heels become painful to wear, particularly
for long periods
- they shorten the woman's stride, thus restricting
- they render the woman unable to run, and hence more
- they damage the woman's feet and tendons when worn
over long periods (see below)
- progressively higher heels are progressively riskier
and more difficult to walk in; tripping is much more
likely, and the risk of damage to the woman's ankles,
toes, and feet, both short-term and long-term, is similarly
As a result of these conflicting factors, women who wear
high heels have a love/hate relationship with their shoes.
A small proportion of women seem to be obsessed with high-heels,
owning many pairs.
Imelda Marcos, for example, was famous for her vast
feminism considered high-heeled shoes a tool of female
oppression, constraining a woman's movements and behavior
as much as possible; however, third-wave "sex-positive"
feminism supports a person's choice to wear high heels for
pleasure. Throughout the last sixty years, high-heels have
fallen in and out of favor several times, most notably in
the late 90s, when lower heels and even flats predominated.
Lower heels were preferred during the late 60s and early
70s, as well, but higher heels returned in the late 80s
and early 90s. The shape of the heel has vacillated back
and forth between block (70s), tapered (90s), and stiletto
(50s, 80s, and post-2000).
The heel of high-heels can damage floors. This can be
prevented through the use of a heel protector, also
called a heel cover,
heel guard, or
tap. This is a small piece which fits over the heel
and prevents scratching of the floor. Heel protectors are
widely used in
History of the high-heeled shoe
As early as the late fifteenth century, horsemen grew
tired of their feet slipping out of their
stirrups, which were little more than loops of leather
hung from the
saddle. As the soft stirrup gave way to the hard stirrup,
for reasons of quicker mounting and dismounting during battle,
an additional problem was encountered in that the hard stirrup
was much more tiring and damaging to the rider's feet during
The obvious solution was to design a leather shoe with
a thicker sole that supported the rider's weight, distributing
the pressure from the stirrups over more of the bottom of
the rider's feet. However this failed to solve the problem
of the rider's feet slipping forward in the stirrups, often
with comical, if not tragic results.
Cobblers had been adding thin, flat heels to shoes by
this time, as a pair of leather shoes was very expensive.
Both soles and heels were developed to protect the owner's
comfort and investment by increasing the long-term durability
of the shoe and distributing uneven pressures from rough
terrain more evenly over the owners' feet.
Riders and cobblers worked together to develop the "rider's
heel," with a height of approximately 1-1/2",
which appeared around 1500. The leading edge was canted
forward to help grip the stirrup, and the trailing edge
was canted forward to prevent the elongated heel from catching
on underbrush or rock while backing up, such as in on-foot
combat. These design features are still in use today in
riding boots, primarily on both men and women's cowboy boots.
The simple riding heel gave way to a more stylized heel
over its first three decades. During this time military
uniforms became more stylized, particularly among the nobility,
who equated style with social status. Beginning with the
French, heel heights among men crept up, often becoming
higher and thinner, until they were no longer useful while
riding, but were relegated to "court-only" wear.
By the 1600s men's heels were commonly between three and
four inches in height.
1533, more than three decades after the male French
nobility began wearing heels, the diminutive wife of the
Duke of Orleans,
Catherine de Medici, commissioned a cobbler to fashion
her a pair of heels, both for fashion, and to increase her
stature. This was the first written record of the high-heeled
It was invented due to military necessity.
High-heeled fashion quickly caught on with the fashion-conscious
men and women of the French court, and spread to other pockets
of nobility in other countries. Both men and women continued
wearing heels as a matter of noble fashion throughout the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
When the French Revolution drew near, in the late 1700s,
the practice of wearing heels drew to a close, as the term "well-heeled"
had became synonymous with opulent wealth, and could incur
the ire of the public at large.
Throughout most of the 1800s, flats and sandals were
the normative style for both sexes, but the heel resurfaced
in fashion during the late 1800's, almost exclusively among
women. Since the early 1900s, high-heel design has run the
gamut of styles. While today's fashions favor pointed toes,
most styles that have appeared over the last century remain
available in one form or another, along with a plethora
of newer styles.
Foot and tendon problems
High-heeled shoes cant the foot forward
and down while bending the toes up. The
more that the feet are forced into this
unnatural position, the more it will cause
Achilles tendon to shorten. This will
cause problems when the wearer chooses lower
heels, flat-soled shoes, or to walk barefoot.
When the foot cants forward, a disproportionately
greater amount of the wearer's weight is
transferred to the ball of the foot, increasing
the likelihood of damage to the underlying
soft tissue which supports the foot. In
many shoes, style dictates function, either
compressing the toes, or forcing them together,
which results in blisters, corns, hammer-toes,
bunions, and many other medical conditions,
most of which are permanent, and will require
surgery to alleviate the pain.
The best solution to avoid these problems
is to avoid heels altogether. If that is
not possible, then the wearer should ensure
they are wearing high-heels no more than
half the time, and that they are spending
at least a third of the time on their feet
either barefoot, in supportive flat-soled
shoes, or in good running/walking/cross-training
shoes. Saving high heels for rare occasions
is best for the overall health of the feet.
One of the most critical problems with
high-heels is with the design and construction
of the toebox. Improper construction here
wreaks the most damage and long-term pain
on the foot. Narrow toe boxes force the
toes together. Several celebrities, such
Victoria Beckham, have come to the point
where surgery is needed to recover from
the damage caused by wearing high-heels
too often. Ensuring room exists for the
toes to assume a normal position and spending
sufficient time out of high-heels allows
the body to repair any damage caused by
high-heels, thereby recovering to a sufficiently
healthy point where high-heel wear remains
an option, rather than a debilitating practice.
Unfortunately, the most common design trend
today is towards the extremely pointed toe.
Block heels do not necessarily offer
more stability, and any raised heel with
too large a width, such as blade and block
heels, induces unhealthy side-to-side torques
to the ankle every step. Heels which strike
the ground too far after of the ankle over-torque
the ankle forward, producing extreme stress
on the ankle, and creating additional impact
on the ball of the foot, both of which are
highly likely to cause damage to the feet.
Thus, the best design for a high-heel is
one with a narrower width, where the heel
is closer to the front, more solidly under
the ankle, where the toe box provides room
enough for the toes, and where forward movement
of the foot in the shoe is kept in check
by material snug across the instep, rather
than by toes jamming together in the toe
box. Naturally, this rules out most pumps,
but boots, particularly lace-ups with a
round toe box and forward heel, are surprisingly
Interestingly enough, despite the medical
issues surrounding high-heel wear, a few
podiatrists recommend a well-constructed
low heel of no more than two inches for
their patients with flat feet. It appears
the moderate heel improves the angle of
contact between the metatarsals and the
horizontal plane, thereby more closely approximating
the angle and resulting weight distribution
of a normally-arched foot. The angle for
high-arched feet, however, is already exaggerated,
and the wear of heels by those with high
arches can be particularly problematic for
the metatarsal phalangeal joint.
Regardless of fashions, it's important
to note that high heels do cause cumulative
damage to the feet. Many report back pain
and problems with spinal alignment, from
the abnormal posture that high heels induce.
Men and heels
Since the late 1700s, men's shoes have
had primarily low heels. The two exceptions
are cowboy boots, which continue to sport
a taller riding heel, and a brief resurgence
in higher-heeled shoes for men in the 1970s.
While high-heels are marketed almost
exclusively to women, a small percentage
of men have worn, and continue to wear heels
for various reasons, including personal
preference, medical reasons, gender identity
issues, and fetish roles. Although the idea
of men wearing heels certainly isn't new,
it is unusual in modern times, and as a
result, some pockets of society consider
it deviant. Whether it meets DSM-IV criteria
for deviancy or not, however, depends entirely
on one's reason behind wearing heels, and
many people, including psychologists, don't
consider it deviant at all, simply due to
the fact that gender-specific clothing styles
are rapidly disappearing. Furthermore, they
realize men invented heels and wore them
for more than 200 years before fashions
changed. Today, most psychologists simply
consider it a fashion choice, as do the
men who wear heels. The men who do wear
heels in public report very little resistance,
and and some report their choice of fashion
is met with a surprising amount of appreciation
Heel wear among men is especially prevalent
among rock stars, which has seen many performers
wearing heels, both on and off the stage
since the late 1960s, beginning with the
Beatles, who wore shoes with a higher heel.
Over the last decade, the Internet has
brought together many men who consider the
wearing of heels, even skirts, and other
forms of clothing considered by Westerners
as merely the continuation of what men have
been doing for hundreds of years with heels,
and tens of thousands of years with skirts
and other fashions. It's a well-known fact
that more than a third of all men worldwide
still wear skirts on a regular basis, but
this is largely lost on the somewhat insulated
Western fashion culture. While the wearing
of heels by men in public is still rare,
it's a continually growing phenomenon, and
one that appears to be accelerating.
The practice of men wearing heels continues
to grow throughout Westernized countries
including the US and Europe, and to a lesser
extent in various pockets of Asia. This
trend has not been lost on fashion designers,
who have occasionally featured men wearing
heels on the runways since the mid 1990s.
Recent changes by shoe manufacturers, including
marketing more masculine styles and heels
with significantly larger sizes to accommodate
men, appears to underscore this trend, and
many of the more masculine high-heeled shoe
and boot designs that were only available
in sizes up to 11 just two years ago are
now available in sizes up to 13, with some
in sizes quite larger.
The future of heels
While it is impossible to predict the
future of fashion, there are several interesting
First is a return to leather, which for
heels makes a lot of sense, since leather
excels at providing support while gently
remolding and conforming itself to the wearer's
foot to provide better distributed support,
thereby eliminating hot spots. Furthermore,
in addition to providing comfortable, but
not excessive levels of warmth, leather
breathes fairly well, unlike synthetic coverings.
Second is an increased emphasis on ergonomics.
Heels that hurt aren't given much word of
mouth, a fact which isn't lost among designers.
Heels that combine good looks with proper
construction and support are comfortable
to wear all day, which to designers, is
free advertising. Combined with the fact
that consumers are more discriminating with
respect to good fit in the store, it's easy
to see why ergonomics is playing an increasing
role. Some of the more recent shoes and
boots have been designed with built-in gel
inserts to support the ball of the foot
and the heel, and are quite comfortable
to wear for extended periods of time.
Third is the use of mixed materials.
Cuts including both smooth and suede leathers,
as well as natural and synthetic leathers,
even fabric in some areas, is becoming more
common. This trend uses the best textile
for any given area, capitalizing on that
textile's strength, and minimizing its weakness.
Recent examples include the use of tough
rubber non-skid soles and heel-tips, gel
inserts for cushioned comfort, leather toe
boxes and uppers, synthetic fabric linings
and padding to keep moisture away from the
foot, stretch synthetic leather insteps
to keep the foot firm against the footbed,
and plastic zippers. Each technology capitalizes
on it's strengths, and reduces the weaknesses.
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