5,000 years on, high heels are given the boot

Heart and sole: High heels were first worn by ancient Egyptians over 5,000 years ago.

Should we mourn the demise of high heels? In a landmark show at London Fashion Week, Victoria Beckham spun heads with a high heel-free catwalk. Trends suggest they could be on the way out.

“How can you live the high life if you do not wear the high heels?” once quipped designer Sonia Rykiel. If this year’s London Fashion Week is anything to go by, high heels may not be so essential after all.

That, at least, was the impression after Victoria Beckham’s homecoming show on Sunday. Her latest collection had all the glamour you would expect, but one Fashion Week staple was conspicuously absent: high heels.

She may be onto something. Last year, sales of high heel shoes declined by 12% while sales of women’s trainers soared by 37%. This decline is the latest twist in a surprising story stretching back thousands of years.

Ancient murals show Egyptians wearing heels during religious ceremonies.

From the 10th century, Persians wore heels for horse riding. This trend spread to Europe, and by the 17th century, aristocratic men regularly wore them as a sign of their superiority.

The shoes only became a symbol of femininity after the Enlightenment. From then, 20th century mass production and pin-ups like Betty Grable and Marylin Monroe popularised them for a modern generation of women.

However, a cultural shift seems to be in motion. Recently, Cannes Film Festival organisers were criticised when they insisted women wear heels to film screenings. Expecting women to wear them is sexist, some argue.

Should we mourn the decline of high heels?

On point

Absolutely not, some argue. High-heeled shoes are an outdated symbol of everyday sexism in which women are held to oppressive beauty standards to satisfy the male gaze. The day when nobody wears them any longer will be one of celebration.

We should not encourage their demise, others respond. For decades many women have felt empowered by wearing high heels. We should celebrate all aspects of femininity — high-heeled or not.

You Decide

  1. Is fashion important?

Activities

  1. What do you think people will be wearing in 500 years time? Draw a sketch of your predictions. Show your drawing to the class and explain your predictions. Why do you think fashion will have changed in this way?

Some People Say...

“I firmly believe that with the right footwear one can rule the world.”

Bette Midler

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A survey by the American Podiatric Medical Association found that 72% of women wear high-heeled shoes (39% wear them daily, while 33% wear them less often).
What do we not know?
We do not know how the downward trend in sales of high heels will change in the future. Luxury brands of shoes are still highly desirable, and many women still wear heels for leisure and work.

Word Watch

Enlightenment
European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries. Philosophy of the time emphasised rationality and practicality as distinctly male traits, meaning that men distanced themselves from impractical high-heeled shoes.
Betty Grable
American actress, dancer and model. Her iconic pin-up poster was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential Photographs of All Time.
Marylin Monroe
She once said: “I don’t know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot.”

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