Why women wear high heels is something that has fascinated many. Heels, like other forms of dress, have gone through many eras.
Studies repeatedly show that both men and women say women in high heels are perceived as more attractive than women in flat shoes. Researchers completed biomechanical analyses and found that high heels give women a more feminine gait, but is it more than just that?
High Heels for Men
Modern women enjoy hearing the tap-tap of high heels, particularly when they are stiletto. However, high heels were worn by soldiers in the 10th century, to help the Persian cavalry keep their shoes in the stirrups and to give the soldiers stability while shooting bows and arrow.
Persian migrants took the trend to Europe, where male aristocrats wore them to make themselves appear more formidable and taller. They represented wealth and power. The higher the heel, the more powerful and important the wearer was.
High Heels for Status
High heels for men symbolized high social stature, military prowess, a refined fashion sense and the height of appearing ‘cool’. Women began wearing shoes for practical reasons. They were outer shoes that protected the woman’s real shoes and hemlines from the dirt. They also became very popular among prostitutes.
In the 1600s King Louis XIV of France ruled that only nobles could wear heels, ensuring the prestige of the shoe. It wasn’t until the end of the 1780s that men stopped wearing heels, because of the inferred femininity.
However, the first account of people wearing heels dates back to 3500 BC, when both the aristocratic men and women wore them for ceremonial purposes.
Women Wear High Heels for Confidence
Women in high heels look more confident and sends a message to others that she is in charge. She is also frequently obsessed with being centre stage. Men see her as significantly more sexy.
In the 1950s fashion designer Christian Dior introduced the pointy—toed stiletto. Film stars like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn helped push high heels to new sexy heights, though Betty Grable was a poster pin-up girl in heels, in a World War II poster.
Women wear High Heels for Visual Effect
Women do not wear high heels for comfort, but merely the visual effect. High heels raise the ball of the foot above the heel, causing the legs to appear longer, the wearer looks taller, and it accentuates the calf muscle. The high heels also make the wearer lean back slightly, pushing the chest out and tucking and tightening the backside. They lift the thighs and glutes, and the wearer effects a ‘courting pose’.
Researchers show that women in high heels change their gait to a strut or perform an exaggerated catwalk. The stride is reduced, the hips increased in rotation and tilt. Heels instantly transform an outfit from standard to chic.
Supposedly, these are necessary attributes for a ‘sexy’ woman who wants to be inaugurated into an admiration society. All this supposedly makes high-heeled-totting women more attractive and more feminine. Fictional character, Carrie Bradshaw, from Sex and City, is classed as the Queen of Heels.
Critics of high heels say that all this only artificially increase a woman’s femininity. The wearer herself, is usually something quite different. Or is it?
Women wear High Heels to Signal Power
High heels are said to depict a woman of power and have the ability to command more respect. Imagine a female CEO walking into a boardroom in loafers. Do they really think the high heels gives them an edge? However, no self-respecting rich and successful businesswoman would be caught dead in flats.
Women in heels are perceived to be more intelligent, assertive, independent, and ambitious. This was encapsulated so beautifully in the comedy movie, The Devil Wears Prada and the high heeled red stiletto shoes. High heels, more than any other article of clothing, are seen as the ultimate symbol of being a woman. Societal norms are a killer when womanhood is defined by the shoes she wears.
Women Wear High Heels in the Workplace
Some union leaders argue that high heels in the workplace should be subject to a health and safety assessment. I guess they have a point, if you take into account the long-term effect of constantly wearing high heels.
With women like Nicole Thorp leading the charge, more and more women may feel comfortable in flats. Nicole was sent home without pay after she refused to follow the dress code of the firm Portico, which demanded all women wear high heels in the workplace. In 2016, fashion retailer JD Williams reported that flat shoes outsold heels by 148%.
High Heels Legislation
It seems ludicrous that women wearing high heels is a matter of government legislation. Existing legislation in the United Kingdom allows women to be required to wear high heels, but only if it is considered a job requirement, and men in the same job are required to dress to an ‘equivalent level of smartness’. Maybe the men should be made to wear high heels for a day and see how long the law would last.
There are still nations, such as Japan, that state that high heels in the workplace are ‘necessary and appropriate for women’. Will these companies pay the medical expenses of women when long-term high heel wearing proves detrimental?
Elegance is being graceful and stylish in manner or appearance. Does it really take high heels for a woman to be described as elegant? Women wearing high heels may make them look elegant, but there is a downside to this.
There are some nasty results from constantly wearing high heels. Lumber spine flattening, posterior displacement of the head, and unwelcome pressure on the feet. It can cause spasm-producing spinal nerve conditions and numbing pain and sometimes deformity of the feet. Wearing high heels is associated with a greater risk of falling. After all learning to walk in heels is an art and not one young children should be encouraged to participate in.
Feminist activists in the late 1960s described high heels as instruments of female torture and part of enforced femininity. Perhaps high heels should be related to the torturous wearing of corsets? Why is it, women insist on being uncomfortable, to be fashionable? Just look at the ‘Twiggy’ models who do not represent the everyday woman. Clothes on a whisper thin model never looks the same by the time they reach my mirror.
In 2015, a group of women were turned away from a film premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in France, for wearing flat shoes. Festival organizers later responded that there was no official ruling for footwear for those who walk the red-carpet, just some overzealous upstarts who wanted to see ‘sexy’ women.
Ban on High Heels
There have been calls from medical organizations to ban high heels as a compulsory dress code. Women workers have also complained at the necessity of wearing high heels in the workplace.
There is an annual international march where men wear women’s shoes and walk a mile to protest domestic violence. This would seem to be a parody on the subject, though the funds raised go towards Rape, Sexual Assault and Gender Violence.
There are also injuries caused when dancing in high heels and men, known as altocalciphiles, who are turned on through a fetish with high heels. Are high heels all about what men want?
At the end of the day, you have to say it is amazing the things that humans get hung-up about and no doubt high heels are here to stay, as long as men are prepared to ogle, and women prepared to prance. It is also said that women wear extremely high heels to impress other women. I must admit there are times when I eye the stiletto enviously with an “I wish…..”.
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