High-heeled footwear (often abbreviated as high heels) is footwear which raise the heel of the wearer's foot significantly higher than the toes. When both the heel and the toes are raised equal amounts, as in a platform shoe, it is not considered to be a "high-heel". High heels tend to give the aesthetic illusion of longer, slender and more toned legs. High-heels come in a wide variety of styles, and the heels are found in many different shapes, including stiletto, pump, block, tapered, blade, and wedge.
According to high fashion shoe websites like Jimmy Choo and Gucci, a "low heel" is considered less than 2.5 inches) (6 centimeters), while heels between 2.5 and 3.5 inches (8.5 cm) are considered "mid heels," and anything over that is considered a "high heel" .
Raised heels are stated to have been a response to the problem of the rider's foot slipping forward in stirrups while riding. The "rider's heel," approximately 1-1/2 inch (4 cm) high, appeared around 1500. The leading edge was canted forward to help grip the stirrup, and the trailing edge was canted forward to prevent the elongated heel from catching on underbrush or rock while backing up, such as in on-foot combat. These features are evident today in riding boots, notably cowboy boots.
The simple riding heel gave way to a more stylized heel over its first three decades. Beginning with the French, heel heights among men crept up, often becoming higher and thinner, until they were no longer useful while riding, but were relegated to "court-pony" wear. By the late 1600s men's heels were commonly between three and four inches in height.
In 1533, the diminutive wife of the Duke of Orleans, Catherine de' Medici, commissioned a cobbler to fashion her a pair of heels, both for fashion, and to increase her stature. They were an adaptation of chopines (elevated wooden soles with both heel and toe raised not unlike modern platform shoes), but unlike chopines the heel was higher than the toe and the "platform" was made to bend in the middle with the foot.
High-heeled shoes quickly caught on with the fashion-conscious men and women of the French court, and spread to pockets of nobility in other countries. The term "well-heeled" became synonymous with opulent wealth. Both men and women continued wearing heels as a matter of noble fashion throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When the French Revolution drew near, in the late 1700s, the practice of wearing heels fell into decline in France due to its associations with wealth and aristocracy. Throughout most of the 1800s, flat shoes and sandals were usual for both sexes, but the heel resurfaced in fashion during the late 1800s, almost exclusively among women.
Throughout the last 60 years high-heels have fallen in and out of favor several times, most notably in the late 90s, when lower heels and even flats predominated. Lower heels were preferred during the late 60s and early 70s as well, but higher heels returned in the late 80s and early 90s. The shape of the fashionable heel has also changed from block (70s) to tapered (90s), and stiletto (50s, 80s, and post-2000).
Today, high-heels are typically worn by women, with heights varying from a Cuban heel of 1½ inch (4 cm) to a stiletto heel (or spike heel) of 4 inch (10 cm) or more. Extremely high-heeled shoes, such as those higher than 5 inch (13 cm), are normally worn only for aesthetic reasons and are not considered practical. Court shoes are conservative styles and often used for work and formal occasions, while more adventurous styles are common for evening wear and dancing. High-heels have seen significant controversy in the medical field lately, with many podiatrists seeing patients whose severe foot problems have been caused almost exclusively by high-heel wear.
Wedge heel is another style of the heel, where heel is in a wedge form and continues all the way to the toe of the shoe.
Reasons for not wearing high-heels include:
Reasons for wearing high-heels, which are almost exclusively aesthetic, include:
If it is not possible to avoid high heels altogether, some doctors suggest that the wearer wear high-heels no more often than twelve hours a day, and that they are spending at least a third of the time on their feet in contour-supportive "flat" shoes (such as exercise sandals), or well-cushioned "sneaker-type" shoes, saving high heels for special occasions.
One of the most critical problems of high-heeled-shoe design involves a properly constructed toe-box. Improper construction here can cause the most damage to one's foot. Toe-boxes which are too narrow force the toes to be "crammed" too close together. Ensuring that room exists for the toes to assume a normal separation so that high-heel wear remains an option rather than a debilitating practice, is an important issue in improving the wearability of women's high-heeled fashion shoes.
Wide heels do not necessarily offer more stability, and any raised heel with too much width, such as found in "blade-" or "block-heeled" shoes, induces unhealthy side-to-side torque to the ankles with every step, stressing them unnecessarily, while creating additional impact on the balls of the feet. Thus, the best design for a high-heel is one with a narrower width, where the heel is closer to the front, more solidly under the ankle, where the toe box provides room enough for the toes, and where forward movement of the foot in the shoe is kept in check by material snug across the instep, rather than by toes jamming together in the toe box.
Interestingly enough, despite the medical issues surrounding high-heel wear, a few podiatrists recommend well-constructed low to moderate heels for some patients. It appears a slight elevation of the heel improves the angle of contact between the metatarsals and the horizontal plane, thereby more closely approximating the proper angle and resulting in proper weight distribution of a medium-to-high-arched foot. Other foot specialists, however, argue that any heel causes unnecessary stresses on the various bones and joints of the foot.