From Heel to Eternity
An abbreviated history of the shoe
April 19, 2007
Sandals are in. Bark and rawhide are preferable, later giving way to
wood and poured gold. Depictions of sandals as a sign of power and rank
show up on Egyptian tablets. The Romans introduce feet fetishism and
the infamous Greek tragedy known as "wearing one size smaller" takes
shape in the world of women's shoes.
The heel reaches the height of fashion, starting with the five-inch
"chopine"—the precursor to KISS platforms—imported from Florence and
introduced to the French court by shorty Catherine de Medicis. Walking
canes are implemented for additional support. And Shakespeare pens the
phrase, "Your ladyship is nearer to heaven than when I saw you last, by
the altitude of the chopine."
Satin, side-laced ankle boots become the rage in Europe, reaching
knee-length, ornate and corset-like by the 1890's. And in the Americas,
colonial women steal the deerskin moccasins off Native American feet,
then practical oxfords off their husbands' during suffrage marches. The
high-top Converse makes its debut.
In the Roaring Twenties, sensible shoes are out; heeled sandals are in. In the Wizard of Oz,
Dorothy clicks the heels of her sparkling ruby slippers with the power
to take her home, inciting women and drag queens across the world. In
China, foot-binding is quickly becoming gauche, while in the West
fetish gear enjoys an underground following in patent leathers, spiky
heels and strapped rhinestone pedestal boots with spurs.
On the mainland, they begin rockin' and rollin' in clunky saddle
shoes and thick bobby socks. While in Hawai`i, plantation boots give
way to the ubiquitous slippah and posters of Rita Hayworth wearing racy
studded slingbacks show up in a U.S. serviceman's locker.
The stiletto is born. While various European designers clamor for
credit, millions of women limp to the doc's office for twisted and
broken ankles. Jayne Mansfield owns 200 pairs. Five-foot Brazilian
bombshell Carmen Miranda performs the song "I Like to Be Tall" in
eight-inch platforms. And Salvatore Ferragamo makes a $1,000 pair of
18-karat gold chain sandals.
The Beatles and the Mods bring back the low-heeled ankle boot to
wear with their Nehru pantsuits and later, futurist "go-go" boots with
their miniskirts. Sandals also come back again—this time flat and
earthy by way of the dreaded Birkenstock. The vampy invisible sandal
takes hold, inspired by leggy Las Vegas showgirls and procuring a
multi-billion dollar pedicure industry.
Manolo Blahnik opens his first boutique in London and invents the
"jellies." Snakeskin, pearlized leather, ankle straps, 11-inch
platforms and stacked heels dominate the disco scene. Cowboy boots,
two-toned Nikes, Doc Martens and combat boots are not just for the
working class anymore.
Kinky thigh-high boots and multi-colored sneakers go wild. Some
insane designers even decide to combine the two. I seem to also recall
fringed boots, clogs, checkered Vans and vinyl pumps but the history
books show nothing of the sort. Probably for good reason.
The Top-Sider is seen on every pretentious schmuck on campus, while
chicks face a similar lapse in judgment, going for espadrilles, mules
and fake-fur trimmed, 10-inch-high turquoise "Pee Wee" boots inlaid
with Las Vegas icons.
Mary Janes and cork wedgies fade out, as Sex and the City
re-introduces the importance of the stiletto, further immortalizing
Manolo Blahnik. Fetish wear is officially mainstream. And knee-high
riding boots do nothing for us in the Hawaiian Islands.
Sandals are in. Bark and rawhide are preferable. Rubber will do. MTW
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