The Real Reason High Heels Were Invented Is Surprisingly Practical


Today, high heels are rarely — if ever — about function or practicality. The sky-high stilettos, massive platforms and even kitten heels are all about style.

Of all the footwear options in your closet, they are definitely not the best bet for getting from point A to point B. So, it may come as a surprise that high heels were originally invented as functional footwear.

High heels date all the way back to the 10th century when many horseback-riding men wore heels on their boots and shoes. The heels helped their feet stay in the stirrups while riding. Cowboy boots still have heels for that very reason.

cowboy boot photo
Getty Images | Ethan Miller

Thus, it was men — not women — who wore the first heeled shoes. As the style spread through Europe, heeled shoes developed a deeper meaning: They revealed that the wearer owned and maintained horses. As such, they were a symbol of the upper class.

It wasn’t until the 18th century that high-heeled shoes fully migrated over to women’s closets. For women, the original clunky boots evolved into decorative slimmer heels and pointed toes.

Even then, women wore heeled shoes to make their feet look smaller — not for the style impact. Meanwhile, men started to recognize how very impractical the heeled shoes were, and it fell out of fashion for men to wear them.


“Early on, it had nothing to do with lengthening the leg, because legs were hidden under skirts, so no one cared! It was about presenting a small foot,” Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator of Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum, told TODAY.

The Bata Shoe Museum houses an impressive collection of 13,000 footwear artifacts from cultures around the world. And you thought you had a shoe obsession! Here, you can walk through the fascinating history of shoes and see the evolution of the high heel for yourself. What you decide to wear on your own feet is up to you.

Curiosity, Fashion & Style

About the Author
Jennifer Nied
Jennifer Nied is a freelance writer and editor based in New York City. She focuses on beauty, wellness, and travel stories with a background covering the spa industry.

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