By Chantel Roberts
Today it seems odd to see a man wearing high heels, but it used to be quite a normal sight. When you think of a man in heels you likely immediately think of Louis XIV’s portrait by Hyacinth Rigaud, with the original Louboutin red heels. Contrary to popular belief, The Sun King did not invent heels to show off his magnificent calves.
A Persian dish in a Berlin museum shows a rider in the 9th or 10th century with heels. High-heeled shoes were worn by the Persian calvary to keep their shoes in the stirrups since it gave them the stability that they needed to shoot arrows from horseback.
Heels became the signature power move for men who wanted to display their virility and be a head above the rest (pun intended). The footwear found its way to Europe by the 16th century. European men used heels as an outer layer to prevent mud on their real shoes. Like today, the higher the heel the richer and more commanding the wearer appeared.
Italian courtesans allegedly began wearing heels for their sexy, androgenous look, which is humorous since, while we find them sexy today, we don’t necessarily think of them as “androgenous.” Catherine de Medici is the first recorded instance of high heels being worn by a woman. She wore them on her wedding to Henri II of France because, at 4’ 9”, she wanted to appear taller. Women had been wearing platform heels at that time—oh, how fashion goes around!
Louis XIV adored heels and gave his name to the signature heel of his era. His famous red heels were a sought-after sign of royal approval as Louis decreed only those in his favor were allowed to wear red heels on their shoes.
In this painting, Nicolas de Largillière, the painter, is showing that Louis, Duke of Burgundy, does not have his grandfather’s approval because he does not have the red-heeled shoes.
Louboutin is so synonymous with the red heel that it once filed suit against Yves Saint Laurent for trademark infringement because YSL produced shoes with a similar red sole. Yves Saint Laurent argued that Louboutin could not claim a trademark because their shared French history had red heels back to Le Roi Soleil.
The red color has an interesting history as well. It showed that the nobles never dirtied their shoes and it represented the blood of their enemies. What a way to show whether you were in the King’s favor!
This had to be strictly governed. In 1670, Louis passed a law stating only nobles could wear heels and theirs must be lower than his five-inch heels. Wearing heels without permission could literally be a death sentence—although some women would argue wearing heels today could be construed as one.
Cosgrove, E. (2019, August 16). The History of High Heels. London Runway. https://londonrunway.co.uk/2019/09/11/the-history-of-high-heels/.
Galiastro, K. (2016, December 5). The Surprising Origin of the Red High Heel. Solemates. https://thesolemates.com/blogs/be-inspired/the-surprising-origin-of-the-red-high-heel.
Google. (n.d.). The High-Life: A History of Men in Heels - Google Arts & Culture. Google. https://artsandculture.google.com/story/the-high-life-a-history-of-men-in-heels/iQJCgMgwSKV5Kw.
Werlin, K. (2010, November 9). Red Heels. The Fashion Historian. http://www.thefashionhistorian.com/2010/11/red-heels.html.
Wynne, E. (2017, November 10). A short history of the high heel. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-13/why-do-we-wear-high-heeled-shoes/9135936.
By Chantal Roberts
Who hasn’t longed for the “good ole days” of yore?
Most notably when we want to visit the past it is as a noble. After all, the peasants lived in filth, right?
Except things weren’t as…um, hygienic for the nobles even in Versailles.
The Sun King did not have flushing toilets as we do today. Indeed, the Royal Family were blessed to have separate rooms called Gaderobes or Cabinets des Affaires, but other nobility had to deal with open chamber pots in their rooms. An open chamber pot with its contents was not an issue—getting rid of the contents was the issue. The servants would have to carry the pot to the nearest sewer, which might not be anywhere close.
There were public toilets, but even then, these did not live up to our standards. They were not often cleaned, and their contents spilled over and oozed down the walls. Versailles did have pipes to carry away the waste, but without running water, these often became clogged.
Naturally, the Royal Family and favorites had the biggest rooms and easiest access. Their servants also were kept close since they were on call at a moment’s notice. But everyone else had to make do. Even a century later Madame de Pompadour had to rearrange the residents of ten apartments because she wanted her friend to be next to her.
Courtiers would sometimes relieve themselves in a dark corner of the hallways and rooms. When the dauphin and dauphine resided off a major hallway, the area around their door was marked off to ensure people would not use the space to relieve their bodily functions!
All the refuse attracted rats that carried diseases. With the collation of power in Versailles, between 3,000-10,000 people were at the palace at any given time.
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