On May 8, the Bata Shoe Museum, the curious footwear museum in downtown Toronto, will unveil its latest coup: “Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels.” According to the museum’s curator Elizabeth Semmelhack, the practice of men wearing heels dates back to 9th century Persia, with horseback warriors utilizing the heels as functional stirrup holders. Fast forward to the height of French aristocracy and heels were very much a part of 17th century status. Louis XIV of France, a noted shoe collector and fashion cognoscenti, wore red (a difficult to come by and expensive hue) shoes often with stacked leather “polony” heels as the ultimate sign of political puissance and nobility above all. “When heels were introduced into fashion at the turn of the 17th century, men were the first to adopt them,” explains Semmelhack. “And they continued wearing heels as expressions of power and prestige for over 130 years.”
Over the centuries, men in heels began to signify something new: John Lennon wore the “Beatle Boot” as part of “neo-peacocking” in the 60s, David Bowie paraded in heels as his Ziggy Stardust alter ego, and Elton John wore heels as part of his elegant stage costumes in the ‘70s. Possibly the most well known heel is on the leather workman’s shoe—some, with equestrian durability and grace, dating back to 19th century Germany, and others, like cowboy boots and post-WWII biker boots, to 20th century America.
“Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels" runs through May 2016 at the Bata Shoe Museum.