High heels are something typically associated with women, but men have been rocking them for more than 400 years.
According to Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator for the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, ancient horse-riding Persian warriors were among the first to wear them. We’re talking the manliest of manly men here, and their purpose was pretty badass.
These soldiers would use heeled shoes to lock themselves into a horse’s stirrup, allowing them to stand up and fire their bow and arrow, which, at the time, revolutionized their empire’s military might.
Naturally, Europeans, lovers of all things that can expand an empire, then became intrigued by the shoes sometime in the 17th century. Except once they were adopted by many of the countries on the continent, they slowly became a symbol of power and prestige as opposed to serving practical function. France’s King Louis XIV was certainly a fan of them (same with tights, by the way):
If you were a guy who could wear heeled shoes and show off your legs in the 1700s, you were basically the Ryan Gosling of the 18th century. But something happened to men’s taste for heeled shoes leading up to the 1800s and they disappeared from mainstream fashion. Some blame that on Napoleon, who was more a fan of flats (he kept the tights, though):
Others blame it on the trend of ditching non-functional items in men’s clothing which took place around the same time, but the jury is still largely out on what exactly happened to them. We do know cowboys in the wild west brought the trend back again in the mid-to-late 1800s (again, we’re talking rugged men in high heels here). Even today, cowboy boots are typically fitted with relatively high heels.
Then, perhaps because of the transition from horses to cars, high-heeled shoes faded from mainstream men’s culture once again. That is, until rock n’ roll came along. The Beatles donned high-heeled shoes (John Lennon was inspired by flamenco dancer footwear) which paved the way for more radical bands like KISS to adopt them as well (again, highly-desirable men in heeled shoes here). The 1970s saw a surge in their popularity:
That only leaves us with skirts, which were popular with men since pretty much the beginning of recorded history. There are illutrations dating back all the way to the 1300s which depict men in skirted garments. Ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Normans all wore them as well. It wasn’t until the ultra-modest Victorian Era, which hated all things sex-related, came along that skirts saw a decline in men. And while the Scottish still wear kilts and some men in other parts of the world still throw them on from time to time, they’ve yet to reach the same level of popularity they once had.
Who knows, maybe they’re just too girly.
You can check out the Bata Shoe Museum’s Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels exhibit until June 2016.