Although high heeled shoes are depicted in ancient Egyptian murals on tombs and temples, the earliest recorded instance of men or women wearing an elevated shoe comes from Hellenic times. It is suspected that the wear of an elevated sole, or heel, occurred centuries before, but there is little direct evidence to support this, although there is indeed much indirect evidence that lends credence to the use of high heels by both men and women for many reasons.
Around 1500, European nobility developed heels as a separate part of their shoes, primarily as a means to help keep their feet in the stirrups. The wear of heels by men quickly became the fashion norm, primarily in the courts, and this practice spawned the term, "well-heeled" as a reference to those who could afford the costlier shoes. Heelwear by men continued until shortly before the French Revolution, but resurfaced in the 70s, and again in modern times.
The first officially recorded instance of the wear of high heels involved the 1533 marriage between Catherine de' Medici with the Duke of Orleans. She wore heels made in Florence for her wedding, and as a result, high heels became the norm for ladies of the Duke's court in France.
Mary Tudor ("Bloody Mary"), another short monarch, wore heels as high as possible. From this period until the early 19th century, high heels are frequently in vogue for both sexes.
Around 1660, a shoemaker named Nicholas Lestage designed high heeled shoes for Louis XIV. Some were more than four inches, and most were decorated in various battle scenes. The resulting high "Louis heels" subsequently became fashionable for ladies. Today the term is used to refer to heels with a concave curve and outward taper at the bottom similar to those worn by Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress. (They are also sometimes called "Pompadour heels.")
The late 18th-Century trend toward lower heels had much to do with the French Revolution. During the revolution, high heels became acquainted with the opulence. As a result, most people wished to avoid any semblance of wealth, which was singularly remarkable in the elimination of heels from the common market for both men and women. In the wake of the French Revolution heels become lower than at any time in the 18th century.
Although most people equate high-heeled shoes with women, this is not only not the case throughout history, it's still not the case today. Many men throughout the Western world, including Europe, North America, and elsewhere, wear high-heeled shoes on a regular basis, and for a variety of reasons. High-heeled male dance shoes (often called Cuban heel or Latin heel shoes) are fairly common, and are not considered effeminate.