Stiletto heel

Stiletto heel

A stiletto heel (AmE: spike heel) is a long, thin heel found on some boots and shoes, usually for women. It is named after the stiletto dagger, the phrase being first recorded in the early 1930s. Stiletto heels may vary in length from 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) to 20 cm (8 inches)or more if a platform sole is used, and are sometimes defined as having a diameter at the ground of less than 1 cm (slightly less than half an inch). Stiletto-style heels shorter than 5 cm are called kitten heels. Not all high slim heels merit the description stiletto. The extremely slender original Italian-style stiletto heels of the very early 1960s were no more than 5mm in diameter for much of their length, although the heel sometimes flared out a little at the tip. After their demise in the mid-late 1960s, such slender heels were difficult to find until recently due to changes in the way heels were mass-produced. However, no moulded plastic heel with internal metal tube can hope to achieve the slender line or strength of a metal-stemmed stiletto, so it was only a matter of time before popular opinion and the demands of shoe designers brought back the manufacture of genuine stiletto heels.

History

Stiletto heels, the very thin high heel, were certainly around in the late 1800s as numerous fetish drawings attest. Firm photographic evidence exits in the form of photographs of Parisian singer Mistinguett from the 1940s. These shoes were designed by Andre Perugia, who began designing shoes in 1906. It seems unlikely that he invented the stiletto, but he is probably the first firmly documented designer of the stiletto heel.

High heel shoes were worn by men and women courtiers. The design of the stiletto heel originally came from the late Kristin S. Wagner but would not become popular until the late 1950s . The stiletto heel came with the advent of technology using a supporting metal shaft within the heel, instead of wood or other, weaker materials that required a wide heel. This revival of the opulent heel style can be attributed to the designer Roger Vivier and such designs became very popular in the 1950s.

As time went on, stiletto heels became known more for their erotic nature than for their ability to make height. Stiletto heels are a common fetish item. As a fashion item, their popularity was changing over time. After an initial wave of popularity in the 1950s, they reached their most refined shape in the early 1960s, when the toes of the shoes which bore them became as slender and elongated as the stiletto heels themselves. As a result of the overall sharpness of outline, it was customary for women to refer to the whole shoe as a "stiletto", not just the heel. Although they officially faded from the scene after the Beatle era began, their popularity continued at street level, and women stubbornly refused to give them up even after they could no longer readily find them in the mainstream shops. A version of the stiletto heel was reintroduced as soon as 1974 by Manolo Blahnik, who dubbed his "new" heel the Needle. Similar heels were stocked at the big Biba store in London, by Russell and Bromley and by smaller boutiques. Old stocks of unworn pointed-toe stilettos, and contemporary efforts to replicate them (ironically, lacking anything like the true stiletto heel because of changes in the way heels were by then being mass-produced) were sold in street fashion markets and became popular with punks, and with other fashion tribes of the late 1970s until supplies dwindled in the early 1980s. Subsequently, round-toe shoes with slightly thicker (sometimes cone-shaped) semi-stiletto heels, often very high in an attempt to appear more slender (the best example of this being the shoes sold in London by Derber), were frequently worn at the office with wide-shouldered power suits. The style survived through much of the 1980s but almost completely disappeared during the 1990s, when professional and college-age women took to wearing shoes with thick, block heels. However, the slender stiletto heel staged a major comeback after 2000, when young women adopted the style for dressing up office wear or adding a feminine touch to casual wear, like jeans.

Stiletto heels are particularly associated with the image of the femme fatale. They are often considered to be a seductive item of clothing, and often feature in popular culture.

Image

Stilettos give the optical illusion of a longer, slimmer leg, a smaller foot, and a greater overall height. They also alter the wearer's posture and gait, flexing the calf muscles, and making the bust and buttocks more prominent.

Disadvantages

Stiletto heels transmit a large amount of force in a small area, and are therefore often strengthened by a metal tube, into which is inserted a metal or hard plastic tip. The great pressure transmitted through such a heel (greater than that exerted by an elephant standing on one foot) can cause damage to carpets and floors. The heel will also sink into lawns, making high heels impractical for outdoor wear. Some people think that stiletto heels can render wearers less stable than wider high heels due to the small diameter of heel at the ground. This is a fallacy. The act of balancing in a high, thin heeled shoe is accomplished at the front of the foot, not at the heel. A platform shoe with a high wide heel and a deep, rigid platform sole which prevents the wearer from feeling contact with the ground may feel sturdy when stationary, but is more likely to completely capsize and cause the ankle to sprain or fracture than a teetering stiletto shoe with a thin flexible sole which may appear to wobble and tremble, but has no disastrous "point of no return". Walking across a wet cobbled street is quite tricky in stiletto heels, but it is a sure route to the casualty ward in high platform shoes, despite their treacherous illusion of empowerment and strength. It has also been suggested that the daily wear of stiletto heels can cause leg, hip and back problems. Strangely enough, provided the shoe is properly designed and balanced, the higher, approx. four inch stiletto heels do not seem to be the culprits, as the wearer, walking delicately on tiptoe as she has to do, puts little weight down on her heel, and probably will not wish to walk too far before resting, meaning that such shoes are generally reserved more for special occasion wear. Stress damage to the skeleton due to walking impact during prolonged wear is far more likely to be the case with the harmless-looking, low to medium stiletto heel many women favour for all-day wear, which permits a more normal gait, takes more of the wearer's weight than a higher heel, and transmits the force of that concentrated weight into the ground sharply when walking, causing shock waves up the spine. This can be tested (with permission!) by placing a hand on a woman's lower spine when she is walking in various different heel heights - the impact vibrations transmitted up the skeleton by walking purposefully in the manner allowed by the lower stiletto heels are far more noticeable.

See also

References

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