Height was a central feature of seventeenth-century fashion. People accentuated their height with tall hairstyles, long flowing gowns, long straight jackets, and high-heeled shoes. Introduced in the late sixteenth century as a wedged cork heel and adopted from the very high chopine, high-heeled shoes became the dominant style of footwear for both men and women during the seventeenth century.
The heel of seventeenth-century shoes developed into an arched sole with a large square-based heel. At the beginning of the century, heels were quite low, but soon grew to two or three inches in height. By the eighteenth century, some men wore shoes with six-inch heels, which probably made walking without a cane impossible. Heels were made of stacked pieces of leather or blocks of wood. The fanciest shoes covered the heels with the same fabric as the rest of the shoe, but brown leather coverings were most common. The French court of Louis XIV (reigned 1643–1715) popularized red leather heels in the 1650s.
In addition to adding height, high-heeled shoes altered the posture and walk of the wearer. No longer could people stride casually without thought of their feet. Moving gracefully in high-heeled shoes took concentration and practice. High-heeled shoes forced people to thrust their upper bodies forward and take smaller steps. The stiffened posture and delicate movements required by such shoes fit right into the fashion of the times, which valued exaggerated manners. By the next century, children started to learn to walk in high-heeled shoes at an early age.
Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.
Lawlor, Laurie. Where Will This Shoe Take You? A Walk Through the History of Footwear. New York: Walker and Company, 1996.
[ See also Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Chopines ]