High-heeled footwear (often abbreviated as high heels or simply heels) is footwear that raises the heel of the wearer’s foot significantly higher than the toes. When both the heel and the toes are raised equal amounts, as in a platform shoe, it is technically not considered to be a high heel; however, there are also high-heeled platform shoes. High heels tend to give the aesthetic illusion of longer, more slender legs. High heels come in a wide variety of styles, and the heels are found in many different shapes, including stiletto, pump (court shoe), block, tapered, blade, and wedge.
According to high-fashion shoe websites like Jimmy Choo and Gucci, a « low heel » is considered less than 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters), while heels between 2.5 and 3.5 inches (6.4 and 8.9 cm) are considered « mid heels », and anything over that is considered a « high heel ». The apparel industry would appear to take a simpler view: the term « high heels » covers heels ranging from 2 to 5 inches (5.1 to 12.7 cm) or more. Extremely high-heeled shoes, such as those exceeding 6 inches (15 cm), strictly speaking, are no longer considered apparel but rather something akin to « jewelry for the feet ». They are worn for display or the enjoyment of the wearer.
High heels are not a modern invention but there is confusion regarding when it was developed. Research shows that high heels can be traced back to ancient Egypt. In the middle of the second millennium BC, Egyptians began to frequently uses sandals. Retention was obtained generally by the Egyptians by a T or V thong passing through the sole. Egyptian butchers also wore heeled shoes for practical purposes, that is, in order to keep their feet clean of any blood while slaughtering animals.
Things started to change when during the European renaissance, the high heel became a status symbol worn by both male and females from the higher social statuses. Catherine de Medici a Franco/Italian noblewomen pioneered the use of heels as a fashion statement. Catherine de Medici is believed to have worn them to impress the French court when she wed the Duke of Orleans, the future king. It is believed to be the first instance when heels were worn however, this reference may be apocryphal, as the development of heels did not begin to come about until the late 1580s, based on iconographic evidence and extant pieces. Two hundred years later King Louis XIV of France decreed that only nobility could wear heels. Seventeenth-century portraits of King Louis XIV depict the various intricate heels worn by the king and they were often decorated with miniature battle scenes.
During the 16th century, European royalty, such as Catherine de Medici and Mary I of England, started wearing high-heeled shoes to make them look taller or larger than life. By 1580, men wore them, and a person with authority or wealth was often referred to as « well-heeled ». Since the French Revolution (1789-1799) the trend wearing high heels was ended to avoid any associating with the old aristocracy and its opulence. Since people wished to avoid the appearance of wealth, heels were largely eliminated from the common market for both men and women and replace by casual fashion and shoe wear. From the beginning of the Baroque the heel came back to shoes.
It is sometimes suggested that raised heels were a response to the problem of the rider’s foot slipping forward in stirrups while riding. The « rider’s heel », approximately 1 1⁄2 inches (3.8 cm) high, appeared in Europe around 1600. The leading edge was canted forward to help grip the stirrup, and the trailing edge was canted forward to prevent the elongated heel from catching on underbrush or rock while backing up, such as in on-foot combat. These features are evident today in riding boots, notably cowboy boots.