mental_floss Fashion Week: The first high heels


This fall, shoes are a big deal -- literally. The scary-looking thing at left is the chaussure du jour from Balenciaga; Marc Jacobs also showed enormous clodhoppers for the current season. (Blessedly, some of the spring Fashion Week shows, ongoing in Paris, have featured lower heels.) How did women get to the point of wanting to look like genetically-modified hooved freaks? They should start by blaming ancient Egyptians and Greeks, 16th-century European nobles, and Louis XIV, all of whom helped set the trend:

Although high heeled shoes are depicted in ancient Egyptian murals on tombs and temples, the earliest recorded instance of men or women wearing an elevated shoe comes from Hellenic times. ... Around 1500, European nobility developed heels as a separate part of their shoes, primarily as a means to help keep their feet in the stirrups. ... Around 1660, a shoemaker named Nicholas Lestage designed high heeled shoes for Louis XIV. Some were more than four inches, and most were decorated in various battle scenes. The resulting high "Louis heels" subsequently became fashionable for ladies. Today the term is used to refer to heels with a concave curve and outward taper at the bottom similar to those worn by Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress. (They are also sometimes called "Pompadour heels.")

French queen Catherine de' Medici was one of the first women to wear heels, well before Louis' consort; at age 14, she had a pair commissioned for her wedding. The French are also responsible for the phrase "well-heeled:" in the 1500s, it came to be a synonym for "wealthy," since the poor were relegated to wearing flats. For that very reason, during the French Revolution, high heels went out of fashion.