Although heels have been synonymous with elegant women’s footwear for some time now, men originally wore them—and they were practical! The Persian cavalry—the largest in the world by the end of the 1600s—wore heeled boots on horseback because the heels could steady their feet more easily in stirrups (think: cowboy boots). When the Persians went on a diplomatic mission to Western Europe to seek help against the Ottoman Empire, all things Persia became popular. Men’s pumps were one trend that caught on, and they quickly became a symbol of the upper class throughout Europe because they symbolized the skilled, virile Persian warriors.
As with much of men’s fashion, heels eventually made their way into women’s closets, but they were different in design. While men’s heels were square and stout, women’s pumps had pointed or softly rounded toes and a narrower heel. Men ultimately stopped wearing heels when the Enlightenment began. As with the rational philosophy of the time, clothes became more practical. By 1740, men had stopped wearing heels, and they became known solely as women’s shoes. Then, the French Revolution hit, and with it all things upper class and frivolous. Pumps went out of style for quite some time.
Then, cameras were invented. Pinup girls, wearing little except undergarments and heels, could be seen in government ads and in men’s barracks during World War II. In 1953, Playboy hit the shelves. Pumps became popular again because their elegance and sex appeal pushed them onto the streets. Since, heels of all kinds have made their mark, but pumps have stayed the course because they have a bit of a shorter, more practical heel, ideal for working women on the go.
Sources: bbc, slate, nbcnews, huffingtonpost
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