After their use in Ancient Greece for raising the height of important characters in the Greek theatre and their similar use by high-born prostitutes or courtesans in Venice in the 16th Century, platform shoes are thought to have been worn in Europe in the 18th century to avoid the muck of urban streets. Of similar practical origins are Japanese geta. There may also be a connection to the buskins of Ancient Rome, which frequently had very thick soles to give added height to the wearer.
Platform shoes enjoyed some popularity in the United States, Europe and the UK in the 1930s, 1940s, and very early 1950s, but not nearly to the extent of their popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, when the biggest, and most prolonged, platform shoe fad in U.S. history began at least as early as 1970 (appearing in both advertisements and articles in 1970 issues of Seventeen magazine), and continued through the late-1980s though not in Europe or the UK where they had all but died out by 1979. At the beginning of the fad, they were worn primarily by young women in their teens and twenties, and occasionally by younger girls, older women, and (particularly during the disco era) by young men , and although they did provide added height without nearly the discomfort of spike heels, they seem to have been worn primarily for the sake of attracting attention. Many glam rock musicians wore platform shoes as part of their act.
While a wide variety of styles were popular during this period, including boots, espadrilles, oxfords, sneakers, and both dressy and casual sandals of all description, with soles made of wood, cork, or synthetic materials, the most popular style of the early 1970s was a simple quarter-strap sandal with light tan water buffalo-hide straps (which darkened with age), on a beige suede-wrapped cork wedge-heel platform sole. These were originally introduced under the brand name, "Kork-Ease," but the extreme popularity (perhaps fueled by their light weight and soft leather) supported many imitators. Remarkably, even including all of the knock-offs, and given that they are said to have never been formally designed there was very little variation in style, and most of that variation was limited to differences in height.
In February 2006, a Texas-based company opened a website, claiming to be the legitimate successor to the original Kork-Ease company. Their site claims that the original company had been founded in 1953, implying further that their platform sandals also originated in 1953. This is somewhat suspect: aside from being less than entirely consistent with Linda O'Keeffe's book, Shoes : A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers & More (New York: Workman, 1996), pp 388-9, it further implies that the footgear in question was introduced just as the last gasps of the brief 1930s and 1940s platform shoe fads were waning, survived for a decade and a half in almost complete obscurity, then rocketed to ubiquity at the beginning of the 1970 platform fad, only to be forced into obscurity, and near-total extinction by successive waves of the fad by the late 1970s.
As the fad progressed, manufacturers like Candie's stretched the envelope of what was considered too outrageous to wear, while others, like Famolare and Cherokee of California, introduced "comfort" platforms, designed to combine the added height of platforms with the support and comfort of sneakers, or even orthopedic shoes, and by the time the fad finally fizzled in the late 1980s, girls and women of all ages were wearing them. It may also be a by-product of this fad that Scandinavian clogs, which were considered rather outrageous themselves in the early 1970s, had become "classic" by the 1980s.
Vivienne Westwood, the UK fashion designer, re-introduced the high heeled platform shoe into high-fashion in the early 1990s; it was while wearing a pair with five inch platforms and nine inch heels that the super model, Naomi Campbell, took a tumble on the catwalk or runway at a fashion show. However they did not catch on quickly and platform shoes only began to resurface in mainstream fashion in the late 1990s, thanks in part to the UK band the Spice Girls, whose members were known for performing in large shoes.
The United Kingdom (and European) experience of platform shoes was somewhat different from that of the United States. Britain generally is not as concerned with women's feet appearing as small as possible; for example it was not unknown in the US for women to have their small toe removed in order to wear a smaller size short pointed shoe , and the long pointed shoes of the early 2000s, that give an elongated look to the foot, were and are still more popular in the US than in the UK.
Platform shoes took off in a very big way amongst most age groups and classes of UK men and women in the 1970s. Whilst wedge heels were popular on platforms in the summer, high thick separate heeled platform boots and shoes were 'all the rage'. Many of the shoe styles were recycled 1940s and early 1950s styles, but both shoes and boots were often in garish combinations of bright colours. The Spice Girls, as with many UK young women and even men of the time, would have seen their mothers' and fathers' '70s shoes at the back of the wardrobe and would have played in them as little girls and boys. (This kind of childhood experiences may explain why fashion seems to repeat on a twenty year cycle).
The trend firmly re-established itself in the Developed World fashions of the late 1990s and very early 21st century with a much higher threshold of what was considered outrageous: mothers and fathers of 1997 to 2004 typically think nothing of buying their preschool-age daughters and sons platform sandals that US parents of 1973 would not have wanted their high-school-age daughters and sons wearing and UK parents of 1973 would not have wanted their prepubescent daughters and sons wearing, and the Walt Disney Company has licensed Mickey Mouse cutouts and "Disney Princess" and "Action Man" images on footwear that in earlier decades would have been considered totally inappropriate for the company's "wholesome" image.
Platform shoes made of plastic (usually Lucite or something similar), typically extremely high ones, are strongly associated with the adult entertainment industry and are commonly worn by strippers and pole and lap dancers during their performances. Perhaps because of this, they also seem to be rather popular among young US and UK women in their teens and twenties (the same age group among which platform shoes were widely popular in the early 1970s), because they have retained the shock value that less extreme platform footgear had lost by the 1990s. Paradoxically, and perhaps because of romantic associations with "Cinderella," less extreme clear plastic platform shoes are rather popular as prom, wedding, and even children's footgear.