Photographer: Vince Cianci
Hair: Maryanne Da Costa
MUA: Lauren MacKenzie
Model: Olivia Gudaniec
How do you feel when putting on a pair of high heels? As a petite woman myself, I love the fact that my legs elongate, my shoulders go back, chest out, all the while showing off my carefully chosen heels. It’s the shoe that can make or break your outfit. The look and color of my heels is the first thing I consider when picking out an outfit, however, it’s also the first thing I rush to take off at the end of a long night. My love-hate relationship with heels is on going process. There are times when I swear that I will never wear another pair of high heels, and then I stumble onto pure, high-heeled bliss. Before I know what’s happened, I have got a dent in my wallet and a new addition to my shoe collection.
In my humble opinion, North America is consumed with instant gratification and heels provide just that: a temporary beauty fix without any surgery that adds an instant fix that you can get immediately. That is not to say that wearing heels does not have its pitfalls.
Oddly enough, the high heel or “platform” was developed for a very practical purpose: to prevent feet from getting dirt and mud on them. The ‘Chopine’ was invented in the 16th century, made mostly of wood and cork. As a result of these basic materials the shoe was often big, blocky and made walking quite difficult for women who wore them. According to the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, typically women wearing chopine’s “… were generally accompanied by an attendant on whom she would balance” (Koda, 2002). Chopine’s had a significant range in terms of height, reaching upwards of twenty inches. This raise in stature also served as a symbol for social standing. This element bares similarities to the Cothurnus, also known as, Kothornoi. Particularly, they are platforms worn by the Ancient Greeks and many articles date them back to the theatre. Each shoe was made to fit either foot, so there was no right or left shoe. I am delighted that aspect of our evolution has changed haha! The practical uses of such a shoe: heels provided a feminine appeal (one could distinguish between genders on stage), actors wanted to be seen, regardless of where an audience member was sitting, and lastly, having heels meant that an actor could ‘tower over’ other actors which stated the nobility of the actor. I am glad height is not a factor of importance these days and the fascination of heels lives on.
During WWII, a sensible platform shoe and chunkier heels came into style. The workplace was dominated by women and at that point they were thinking on a more practical basis. In the early 50’s the stiletto appeared, and has remained with us despite the fact that a person’s entire weight is held up by a heel the size and thickness of a pencil. The 60’s brought go go boots and high platforms, after all as skirts got shorter, the shoes became a lot more noticeable. Colorful and creative platform shoes and sandals worn by both men and women dominated the disco 70’s. In the 80s, wearing high heel shoes became a symbol of one’s own choice and instead of being seen as passive they were a form of empowerment. As the 1990’s hit the platform shoe showed up yet again and my generation (generation Y) specifically lived vicariously through the Spice Girls. I can admit, I had a few pairs of platform sneakers and I loved them. It is safe to say that we have been wearing tall shoes for centuries. Nowadays, most of us own some sort of version of the platform shoe. The main difference between the past and present? These days we use heels strictly as a fashion accessory. We have learnt to walk on almost anything it seems and high heels and platforms continue to be all the rage. Let’s face it- heels are here to stay.
So why do we continue to endure the discomfort and pain of wearing heels for long periods of time? Why is money no object? What make us ladies spend that $1000.00 on Christian Louboutin’s when flats can cost us a mere $40.00? Heels are the epitome of femininity and makes women look and feel sexy, and let’s not forget, powerful and confident. Heels give a little “high” of temporary happiness and oh yes, they do make you taller as well. According to CNN.com, “In the past few years alone, the average height of a high-heeled shoe has gone from 3 to 5 inches, notes Phyllis Rein, senior vice president of the Fashion Footwear Association of New York” (Voss, 2011). At least that’s an improvement from the twenty-inch Chopine shoe.
Although it may seem obvious: “Women have about four times as many foot problems as men…” and the Illinois Podiatric Medical Association declares that “it is not “normal” for your feet to hurt!” (2008). So what will it take for us to give up our heels? High heels are not only linked with knee and back problems, but nerve damage, your toes get squished together, blisters/calluses/bunions can be formed, patchy areas of skin appear, not to mention once you start sweating and moisture begins to build… you know the drill. We are testing our limits for the sake of fashion. It seems that how we look is directly linked to our self-esteem and a lot of us are willing to put our health on the line. Is that healthy in itself? Furthermore, not only are heels the go-to item for a vast range of occasions, but also they are a part of our everyday culture here in North America. As much as we may be concerned with the health benefits of high heels, we will continue to override logic and continue to feed our shoe addictions. An online article from BBC News stated that there has been “…an increase in the number of women being admitted to hospital with injuries caused by the fashionable footwear. Injuries ranged from sprained ankles to broken bones and dislocations – and in some cases caused permanent damage” (2006). Have you ever twisted your ankle or stepped awkwardly in your heels? I can safely say I have and yet the injury has never crossed my mind when purchasing a new pair of heels. I guess we really do live by the saying ‘pain is beauty’.
* Want more info on the history of shoes, or do you just want to browse on some cool shoes throughout the eras? Go back in time and check out the amazing collection dating back to 4500 years of footwear at Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada.
* According to the American Osteopathic Association, “One in 10 women wear high heels at least three days a week and a third have fallen while wearing them”(2014). Here is a youtube clip that’s gone viral of models falling in their high heels. Although trendy, they sure are a safety hazard.
© 2014 Olivia Gudaniec