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Heels That Give Women a Lift Are Grounded in a King’s Vanity

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When a woman says she’ll wear her “heels” with a particular outfit, she means those shoes that lift her heel one to three inches off the ground. High heels shape her leg to make it look longer and toned, but they can also create agony when she’s forced to walk around in them all day.

Women may joke that men could never take the pain of getting through a long day in heels, but the elevated heel was originally a feature of men’s shoes.

A heel kept a man’s foot locked in the stirrup while riding his horse. While walking city streets before sewers and public sanitation, they kept him from slipping on banana peels and other garbage.

They also added a little height to guys who wanted to look taller.

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France’s Louis XIV had the royal cobblers create heels that were a little higher than normal to allow him to see eye-to-eye with his advisers. When they saw the king’s new stature, the men and women of his 17th-Century court also added to their heels. Louis found himself in the same position as before and ordered higher heels; the nobility again matched him.

This heel competition went on until everyone looked as if he were wearing platform shoes. Louis realized the absurdity and had his shoes cut down to a normal height. His male staff immediately reduced its heel size, but the wives kept the high-heeled shoes.

When hemlines rose, heels became more of a focus, and women became more shoe conscious.

Shoe designers made the hand-painted “French heel” more than three inches high in the 19th Century. The high heel took on a feminine connotation, and men’s heels dropped.

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Today’s heels range from one to two inches in height on average. The most popular color is all-purpose black.

These platformed shoes were called “pumps” in Germany first because of the sound they made-- plump, plump-- when the heels slapped against a wood floor.

Although they look great on, not much has been done to make heels more comfortable. It’s not by accident that many stores that sell high heels also sell shoe pads, foot creams and other products to make heels a little less painful.


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