Off and on for centuries, women have embraced wearing high heel shoes to elongate and show off their shapely legs. Not only do higher heels add height, they cause the calves to flex, giving the legs a fit and leaner look. In recent years, shoe designers have engineered a variety of styles of high heels for fashion and comfort. Even women who prefer jeans and sneakers may want to rock a pair of high heels every now and then for a little extra attention and boost of confidence.
History of High Heels
When Catherine de Medici became engaged to the Duke of Orleans in 1533, she felt uncomfortable with her small stature. She had two-inch high heel shoes made to make her appear taller. The trend caught on, and eventually, high heels were a sign of wealth and higher social standing. Since then, the high heel trend has come and gone, and come back again. With today’s wide choice of heel styles, shapes and heights, the high heel appears to have made a solid comeback.
Stilettos are typically the highest of all the heels—sometimes up to eight inches—and they can be difficult to walk in because the heels are thin and provide very little surface for stability. The word "stilettos" means small metal dagger. Good quality stilettos have leather uppers with padded insoles to cushion the balls of the feet. Women in Spain, France and Italy wore what might be considered stilettos in the 16th century. Stilettos are often worn with knee length or shorter dresses, skirts and for the most daring women, shorts.
Standard pumps are generally more practical because they provide stability with a slightly wider and shorter heel. The high heeled pump typically has a two- to three-inch heel, a leather upper and padded insoles for comfort. The earliest high heels resemble today's pump, which is appropriate for business wear, since they add height without throwing the wearer off balance.
The kitten heel is a much shorter heel—between one and one and a half inches high. It meets the shoe at its widest place and curves to a narrower point at the very bottom. Originally called "trainer heels," these shoes were designed in the 1950s to help young girls get used to wearing high heels. High-quality kitten heels typically have leather uppers and are worn by women who like the look of heels but prefer something shorter than the stiletto or standard pump heel height. They can be worn with most styles of clothing.
Wedges are the easiest to walk on because there is more surface touching the ground. Italian shoe designer Ferragamo made the wedge heel in the mid 1930s so women could walk with more ease. The wedge heel can be made of any number of materials, including leather, jute or acrylic. Wedge heels are worn with dresses, skirts, slacks or shorts.
Considerations in Choosing and Wearing High Heels
Before purchasing a pair of high heels, try them on and walk around the store to get a feel for fit and ease of walking. Smaller feet will have a more difficult time with the highest heels because of the angle of the incline and amount of force on the ball of the foot. If a shoe's heels are higher than two inches, limit the amount of time spent on your feet while wearing them. It’s always a good idea to have a pair of shorter heel shoes to change into in case the discomfort becomes unbearable.
Dangers and Warnings
High heels cause an unnatural distribution of weight on the ball of the foot, which can throw the foot and the rest of the body out of alignment and cause calluses, stress fractures and knee problems. High heel shoes may be one of the causes of Morton’s neuroma, a noncancerous thickening of nerve tissue on the ball of the foot between the third and fourth toes. High heel shoes are also not as stable as a lower heels due to the smaller base. This can cause tripping or falling.