The History Of Stilettos: Where Did The High Heel Come From?
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The History Of Stilettos: Where Did The High Heel Come From?
woman wearing stilettos in the bathtub while painting her nails

The History Of Stilettos: Where Did The High Heel Come From?

The word stiletto itself is an Italian word for a short dagger with a tapering blade. However, the first thing that comes to mind from the word ‘stiletto’ is a woman’s (usually) shoe with a long, thin, high heel.

As mentioned above, the name is from the stiletto dagger, and the phrase is recorded as early as the first part of the 1930s. Stiletto heels vary in length from 1 to 10 inches. or more if a platform sole is used. Sometimes they’re defined as having a diameter at the ground of less than 1 cm or a little bit less than half an inch. Stiletto-style heels that are two inches or shorter are known as ‘kitten heels’.

Stiletto high heel shoes by Cesare Paciotti

The stiletto has come a long way, deviated from its original design, and circled back to the roots of a long slender heel as shown in this Cesare Paciotti gold high heel shoe.

It isn’t correct to assume that all high slim heels are stilettos. The original Italian-style stiletto heels of the late 1950s were extrememly thin and very in the early 1960s they were no more than 2 tenths of an inch in diameter. After that style fizzled out in the 1960s, such heel shoes with such a slenderness to their heels were difficult to find. Only recently have the super-slender heels returned to the fashion world.

Stiletto heels can be found on almost every type of shoes and boots, such as these clear ankle boots or these suede high heels. The choices and styles for stiletto shoes are quite voluminous.

Who Invented The Stiletto High Heel Shoe?

Andre Perugia, who began designing shoes in 1906, is credited with designing the stiletto. It seems unlikely that he invented the stiletto, but he is nonetheless the first documented designer of the high, slim heel.

High heels have been around as early as the late 19th century. Many photographs of Parisian singer Mistinguett from the 1940s shows the presence of heels, or the modern day stiletto. Its usage in footwear first appeared in print in the New Statesman magazine in 1959: “She came …forward, her walk made lopsided by the absence of one heel of the stilettos”.

At first (and as is still the case, albeit more so as an alternative lifestyle fashion trend) high-heel shoes were worn by men and women courtiers. The stiletto heel was made possible with the arise of technology that uses a supporting metal shaft or stem embedded into the heel. Prior to that, there would need to be wood or other, weaker materials which would necessitate the need for a wide heel. Roger Vivier, a designer in the 1950s revived the design of the heel, and as a result such designs became very popular during that time.

Stiletto heels would go on to be known more for their erotic nature than for their ability to make height, as was the likely original intention. Stiletto heels are a common fetish item around the world. As a fashion item however, their popularity has evolved over time. After an initial wave of popularity in the 1950s, they reached their most refined shape in the early 60s. The toes of the shoes began to be made almost as slender as the actual stiletto heels themselves. Due to the sharpness and pointed look of the show, it was now common for the whole shoe to be referred to as a “stiletto”, as opposed to just the heel.

beautiful woman in white stilettos. The history of stilettos finds the shoe design coming full circle with the original long slender heel
black boot stilettos on a woman in a pink dress

Although they officially faded from the scene around the late 60s, their popularity continued at street level, and women continued to keep their demand for them. Manolo Blahnik introduced a new version in 1974, which was given the name of the “Needle”. Similar heels were then being sold at the Biba store in London, Russell & Bromley, as well as other boutiques. A lot of unsold stock of pointed-toe stilettos and contemporary efforts to manifest them were sold in street fashion markets, becoming popular among “punks” and with other fashion “tribes” of the 70s. The original styles began to go down in the early 1980s. In its place round-toe shoes with slightly thicker and often cone-shaped semi-stiletto heels emerged. The style lasted through the 80s but just about disappeared during the 1990s. In that era, women wore mostly thick, block heels. Super thin stiletto heels made a reappearance in the early 2000’s when the style for spicing up office wear or adding a feminine touch to jeans and other casual wear was trendy.

The Image Of The Stiletto Heel

Stiletto heels largely bring the image of the femme fatale to mind. Quite often, stilettos are considered to be seductive, and as such are often featured in this light in popular culture.

history of stilettos - footwear of the femme fatale

Stilettos have become associated closely with the femme fatale – particularly in movies and TV shows.

What Is The Style Goal Of The Stiletto?

Stilettos, like all similar high-heeled shoes, give the optical illusion of a longer, slimmer leg, a smaller foot, and overall greater height. They alter the wearer’s posture and gait, flexing the calf muscles and making the bust and buttocks more prominent.

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