Believe it or not, the high heel was originally invented for purely practical purposes! Forget about aesthetics or Vogue’s claim that the high heel’s sole purpose is to show off a woman’s leg! Shoes with distinct heels were a solution to the problem of horse riding. Flat-footed shoes tended to slip out of the stirrup and so shoes with "rider’s heels" were invented to keep the foot firmly in place. These first high heels had heels of approximately 1 ˝ inches.
Rider’s heels first became prevalent around 1500. (Some would argue that high heels existed long before then. Roman tragic actors in 200 B.C. often wore platform sandals with very high cork soles.) Soon these practical additions to shoes became a symbol of status and style, especially in the French court. High heels were equally fashionable for men and women. In fact, high-heeled boots for men were all the rage. The heels soon became so high that they were no longer practical and were referred to disdainfully as "court-pony" wear. It was commonplace to see a nobleman teetering around on 4 inch heels.
Heels were also used to give certain royals a "boost" when it came to towering over their subjects. The very short Italian bride of the Duke of Orleans, Catherine d’Medici, wore two-inch platform shoes at her wedding in an attempt to augment her true stature. (Catherine was only 14 at the time, so perhaps she still had a couple of inches coming!) It was not at all unusual for a monarch’s, ahem, shortcomings to influence the footwear preferences of an entire kingdom. Catherine wore high heels, and so other women adopted the fashion. You can blame pointy-toed shoes on King Henry II of England who is said to have worn shoes with narrow, pointed toes to disguise his deformed feet. This style of shoe soon became a fashion statement and a symbol of wealth and power.
High heels were very much associated with the aristocracy. (Perhaps you have heard of the expression "well-heeled", which is used to describe someone who is very well off.) It is no surprise then that high heels fell out of fashion with the French Revolution. Both men and women threw out their high heels and adopted flat shoes or sandals instead. This new style of shoe reigned until the 19th century when high heels gradually became fashionable again. But this time around, it was only the women who adopted the practice.