If you look at paintings of King Louis XIV, or artworks that portray members of the nobility during the 17th century, you will surely notice that the men are wearing heels and wigs. Unlike modern times when heels and wigs are mainly associated with femininity, in the 17th century, these accessories were representations of virility and power for men.
Men in heels
We can trace the first heels on men back to Asia, where they had a practical rather than a symbolic or aesthetic purpose. By the 16th century, heels were a key piece of military equipment for the Persians and Ottomans in their conquests.
These armies were characterized by being masters of combat on horseback, and their footwear was the reason they were able to remain stable on their mounts while shooting arrows while riding.
But their military use quickly changed when they were re-signified as clothing for the nobility, especially at the court of Louis XIV. In the 17th century, they were now characteristic of the upper classes of France.
Heels: symbol of the baroque
For the European upper classes, wearing heels literally meant being above the rest of the population by separating them from the ground peasants were walking on. However, King Louis XIV took it to an extreme by wearing heels of up to 10 centimeters. Perhaps he was compensating for his short stature.
From this point on, heels were uncomfortable, but it didn’t matter. The focus was on aesthetics, and the artistic current of the moment was the baroque: the overflowing, the exaggerated, the detailed.
We are talking about dresses and skirts embroidered with gold, details everywhere, exuberant wigs; nothing could be left empty. At this time, women also began to wear heels because the trend was to imitate men’s fashion.
With the arrival of the Enlightenment, the focus changed: both men and women abandoned them because of their impracticality. After all, this historical period was characterized by the rational and utilitarian; therefore, although they are beautiful, heels are not very useful.
The garment did not make its appearance for a long time until the invention of photography, but for a more perverted reason. Being able to capture images more faithfully allowed the reinvention of a ‘market’ that to this day remains one of the largest industries: pornography.
Drawings and caricatures were soon replaced with high-quality images. In this new modality, the models imitated classic nude poses with modern heels; this gave birth to the correlation between heels and the erotic; unfortunately, women.
Nowadays this is changing. Today clothes are getting a new branding, and that is that they have no gender. Under this ideal, fashion stigmas carried over from the last century are being broken one day at a time.
The exaggeration of the baroque seems to return in a reinvented form with the eccentricity of drag culture, and it is the Drag Queens themselves who are once again introducing the garment to the male closet. But not only that. In this genderless fashion initiative, heels have become more and more gender-neutral elements of empowerment.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards
Photos from: @lilnasx / Arre caballo!, Campus Stellae