For the last three centuries, high heels have been widely regarded as a women’s style. Seen everywhere from runways to daily work attire, adding a few inches to a woman’s height is often considered the key to tying an ensemble together. They’re beloved for their leg-lengthening effects, high-fashion implications and general elegance. However, as designers continue to blend menswear and womenswear, the gendered lines around clothing and accessories have lightened in their severity. More and more men have been spotted sporting the lifted shoe. By adopting footwear that has become such an iconic representation of feminine fashion, their choice is often dubbed “ground-breaking” or “gender bending”. But funnily enough, the origination of high heels began specifically for men.
The earliest known style of heels date back to the 15th century, when Persian soldiers wore heeled boots to help keep their feet in their stirrups as they rode on horseback. Then, during the 17th century, King Louis XIV wore red heels to symbolise his power and wrote an edict stating that only nobility could wear heels. Acting as a symbol for status, power, and military prowess, heels were a common occurrence for men up until the late 1700s, when it fell out of fashion — and was adopted mainly by women.
The Chelsea Boots
It wasn’t until the 1960s when the Beatles popularised the “Beatle Boots” — an early iteration of Chelsea boots — that the heel were re-invited into menswear. Featuring an inverted, round heel called the Cuban heel, there’s something undeniably cool and fresh about the boots. Having made a comeback in 2010, it’s now a mainstay of labels such as Gucci and Saint Laurent; the subtle lift gives even the most classic pair of jeans or suits a sleek, modern feel.
On top of this, the style has been a go-to for some of the most prolific well-dressed male celebrities, with Harry Styles, Luka Sabbat and Kanye West following in the footsteps of Mick Jagger and Prince with their Chelsea boots. It’s become so popular that brands have employed them as part of their menswear collections, eventually infiltrating the streetwear scene.
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Some of the most well-thought-of luxury sneakers now tend to add an extra inch, Cuban heels are being adopted by more and more labels, and then there’s the new wave of ankle boots, with height not far off a woman’s high heel. Leading the trend is Maison Margiela, whose heeled Tabi boots have seen an increase in popularity in recent times. Other fashion house iterations of this particularly high boot include Random Identities‘ Vibram sole version and Gucci’s altogether more rock’n’roll offering, which has emerge at some of our favourite luxury retailers done out in all-over GG Supreme logo print and vibrant red patent leather.
Heels in Streetwear
Having first emerged in January last year, heavy-duty lug-soles remain all the rage among the streetwear crowd. With Off-White, Bottega Veneta, and, of course, Dr.Martens fuelling the heeled-boot resurgence, we see them strutting down both the runway, and the sidewalk.
French luxury house, Balenciaga currently sells a boot known as the Bulldozer. Its honking fang-like treads elevate the wearer inches off the ground. Similarly, Bottega Veneta peddles the Tire Boot, another heeled, Chelsea boot with an extremely large sole. Even Moncler has issued a series of menacing rubber boots that give the wearer an inch or two. In the streetwear scene, men’s fashion is undergoing a huge revival of the heeled boot. Practical, masculine and eye-catching, it remains a staple in wardrobes and runway collections. “People who are buying status footwear want to be recognisable,” said Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director at Neiman Marcus. “We’ve been moving in that direction of having more statement-making footwear. That means making bigger, higher and thicker shoes.”
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Additionally, elevated sneakers are making a similar comeback to the streetwear scene. “After a long stretch at the top of the leaderboard, normcore dad sneakers are giving way to cooler, platforms.” said THE YES Creative Director, Taylor Tomasi Hill. For example, Alexander McQueen’s Chunky Sole Sneakers revamps the classic sneaker look into one that screams loud and confident.
Diverging from the low Cuban heels in the 70s, Bowie and his stage persona, Ziggy Stardust, gravitated towards bold platforms, stilettos, or generally higher heels — all of which were, at the time, synonymous with women’s fashion. While subcultures like drag queen communities and ballroom culture during this time had already normalised men wearing heels and other traditionally feminine garments, Bowie’s look brought gender subversive fashion to the mainstream.
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Now, brands such as Rick Owens, Marc Jacobs and Brooklyn-based footwear label, Syro, are embracing the staggering heels. Offering a range of designs — from Rick Owen’s iconic Grilled platforms to Rombaut’s sneakers-inspired stilettos, they’re a walking example of how the fashion industry is pivoting towards inclusivity and genderless fashion. “When I strut down the street in my heels, every part of my being feels right.” Shaobo Han, co-founder of Syro stated. “Wearing heels allows me to connect and embrace my femininity and explore the limits of fashion. I don’t believe that heels should have a gender, it belongs to everyone.”
The platform heels have also been popular amongst fashion influencers. Stylist and fashion content creator, Wisdom Kaye, is no stranger to a loud look and his Rick Owens have become a staple in his self-expression. Whether he’s donning a Thom Browne skirt or tapping into his David Bowie-esque energy, defying gender norms with garments has led him to his own aesthetic that has cultivated over 10 million followers on social media.
Similar to apparel, the declassification of heels as a “woman’s” shoe continues to unfold as clothing become less tied to one’s gender identity and sexuality. As men hit red carpets and magazine covers in gowns, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have a nice pair of heels to accompany them.
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