Sex, Power, and High Heels: An Interview with Shoe Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack

June 18th, 2010

Ever wonder how high heels became so important to women’s wardrobes? What do they say about power and gender in our society? In this interview, shoe expert Elizabeth Semmelhack traces the evolution of heels, from 9th-century Persian footwear to the designs of Roger Vivier and Manolo Blahnik. Along the way, Semmelhack explains how influences and innovations such as erotica, extruded steel, and “Sex and the City” have made high heels the cultural icons they are today. Currently a curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Semmelhack is the author of “Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe.”

I came to the Bata Shoe Museum as a cultural art historian with a strong interest in things that are made for immediate consumption. Unlike a sculpture or painting that’s intended to stand the test of time and is one person’s unique vision, shoes are made to meet the needs of somebody who’s situated within a particular society at a particular moment in time. For that reason, shoes serve as interesting pulse points for identifying cultural shifts, and I have found them fascinating for 10 years.

The Bata Museum has 13,000 artifacts that range from 4,500-year-old Egyptian footwear to a recent pair of Christian Louboutins. I’m able to take the pulse of many different cultures and time periods and ask really interesting questions about socioeconomic standing, gender construction, and religious identity. Pretty profound cultural questions can be asked of these shoes.

It’s important to understand that our museum is the result of one woman’s collecting efforts. Mrs. Bata has been collecting shoes since the late 1940s. I find that really impressive—that a woman who was bitten by the collecting bug was able to amass so many important pieces over her own lifetime and open her collection to the public by building the museum, which opened in 1995, and by supporting all of the changing exhibitions and publications that we do.

We have three temporary galleries and one permanent gallery. We usually have three new exhibitions a year in the temporary galleries, sometimes two if we’re doing a major exhibition. In the permanent exhibition space, the thematic sections stay the same, but the artifacts themselves that tell the stories might be switched out as a way to preserve them.

Collectors Weekly: How do you decide what to exhibit?

Semmelhack: There’s a lot of brainstorming that goes on. Sometimes it’s something that I want to research or Mrs. Bata wants presented or a great idea that comes from the rest of the staff. There are many different avenues. For an exhibition on Renaissance footwear, we worked with 11 different international museums, but sometimes I curate exhibitions that use our own artifacts exclusively, such as the sock exhibition I just installed, “Socks: Between You and Your Shoes.”

Each time fashion rejects the high heel, the way it’s reintroduced brings it closer to how it’s been represented in erotica.

Mrs. Bata collected all of the socks for that show. The oldest one on view is an 800-year-old sock from what’s now the American southwest. It’s a pre-Columbian sock made of human hair. There were no sheep in North America before Europeans brought them over, so access to long-fibered animals was very limited. Anasazi women often used their own hair to make things like socks or nets for hunting rabbits. It’s a very intricate sock—quite amazing.

We also have a beautiful 17th-century Spanish knitted sock, some really interesting Uzbeki boot socks, and an 18th-century pair made on a sock frame. We have Napoleon’s socks on view, as well as Queen Victoria’s. The show will run for a year.

Collectors Weekly: Is there a specific type of shoe you’re most drawn to?

Semmelhack: Well, for nearly 10 years I’ve been researching the high heel: where heels originated, why European men and women embraced them, how they eventually became a signifier of femininity and were sexualized. I’ve been doing a lot of work on social identity and the construction of gender in relation to high-heeled footwear.

Designed by Herbert and Beth Levine, 1950 - 1959, United States

Herbert and Beth Levine, 1950 – 1959, United States

The earliest image of heeled footwear that I’ve ever seen so far is a depiction of a heeled boot worn by a horse-ride on a 9th century Persian ceramic bowl. The heel was invented in Near Eastern countries because it’s very good for keeping the foot in the stirrup. For these horseback-riding cultures, the high heel was a highly functional form of footwear—that’s why cowboys still wear boots with high heels today.

For centuries, Europeans were fascinated with Near Eastern fashion, but it wasn’t until the 1590s that they became interested in heeled footwear. They had already borrowed a million other things from Near Eastern attire, and in 1590 they decided to borrow the heel. I think it had to do with political and socioeconomic development between Europe—specifically England—and Persia. The Persians had the strongest mounted military in the world, and they all wore heeled footwear.

Across Europe, upper-class men embraced the heel and they used it for both its original purpose, horseback riding, and as an accessory of status. Upper-class women quickly followed suit and throughout the 17th century, men, women, and children of the upper classes all wore heeled footwear. By the next century, however, men began to move away from the heel and in 1730s men had abandoned them.

Collectors Weekly: What caused men to shy away from high heels?

Semmelhack: One of the things that developed during the 1600s, and that really took hold in the 18th century, is Enlightenment thinking, which posited that men were innately rational regardless of their social stature. All men could be educated, and once a man, even a man of the lower social classes, was educated, he could participate in government, he could participate as a citizen. Some of the seeds of the American Revolution and the French Revolution were sown by this way of thinking, this idea of enfranchisement for all men.

As this philosophy evolved, a dichotomy developed—men were deemed rational and educatable; women were irrational, sentimental, and uneducatable. Dress became an expression of these two different modes of gender-specific behavior. Men began to wear more dour clothing. They gave up makeup and highly ornamented clothing and heels. Those accoutrements became signifiers of femininity—especially the high heel, since it’s an irrational form of footwear, unless you are on a horse. So it became associated with femininity, and then was eventually linked to female desirability.

Collectors Weekly: Are those early heels very different from the heels that we see today?

Semmelhack: The invention of the stiletto in the post-World War II period made use of either extruded steel or a very hard, thin plastic. That allowed shoemakers to make an exceptionally thin heel that could support the weight of a woman without breaking. Prior to that, most heels were carved out of wood. The creation of a very delicate, very thin heel that could soar in height but at the same time take the wear, that’s a post-World War II invention. And it’s something that most women still include in their fashionable wardrobe today.

Red suede wedge mules designed by Salvatore Ferragamo, 1940, Italy

Salvatore Ferragamo, 1940, Italy

Interestingly, I argue in my book that during the World War II period, very narrow, thin heels were not in fashion. There had been attempts to make a stiletto-like heel in the ’30s and earlier, but because of technological limitations, shoemakers couldn’t offer women a very fine heel. They could offer them a high heel that was relatively fine, but not as fine and high as the stiletto after the war.

Still, during the war, the ideal of a woman in very high heels became embedded in images of female desirability, although it didn’t necessarily correspond with what was fashionable. During the war period, many women wore platform shoes, heavy, thick-heeled platform shoes that certainly elevated them, but these shoes were not considered appealing to men.

If you look at how women dressed during war time and what men fantasized about, if you look at the pinup girls that men put up in their barracks while they were away at war, you begin to see a real disconnect between the fashionable female ideal and the desirable female ideal. What I find interesting is that when the war was over and men came back, fashion brought itself into closer alignment with men’s ideas of female desirability. I think that was a very potent part of the stiletto’s success, and it’s an eroticism that continues to infuse the stiletto heel even today.

Collectors Weekly: When exactly was the stiletto invented?

If the high heel is an accessory of female power, and if the definition of female power is sexual, that power has a very short shelf life.

Semmelhack: My feeling, although I’m still working to prove it, is that Roger Vivier, the shoe designer for Christian Dior, invented the stiletto. It seems to have been debuted by Vivier sometime between 1952 and 1954. I haven’t found that first stiletto, but it was exactly what we now think of as the iconic stiletto. His heels were remarkably fine for the period.

Vivier’s designs were widely copied, but it’s easy to recognize an original. Firstly, it has the name Roger Vivier in the sock, but also it’s the quality of its construction and other details. Here at the museum we have his archives from when he worked with Christian Dior, so we have many of the prototypes he made, his original drawings. He studied sculpture, and I think that that’s quite evident in the shoes he made.

He paid incredible attention to the toes of the shoes he designed in addition to the heels. One of the hallmarks of his design is a kind of crisp angularity to his toe that’s quite remarkable, and the variation in that toe from design to design is quite striking. His placement of the heels and his shapes for heels were also very innovative, from his choc heel to his comma heel to his stiletto.

He was called the Fabergé of shoes because even though he was so sculptural and almost minimalist in the architecture that he created, he often embellished his shoes to the point of near excess, where they were dripping with baubles and jewels.

Collectors Weekly: What was the initial reaction to the stiletto?

Semmelhack: It seemed to be altogether pretty positive. When Christian Dior debuted the “New Look,” it sent ripples through the fashion world, and he didn’t even have stilettos yet. But the stiletto soon followed. Because it was much more in keeping with erotic concepts of femininity, both men and women appreciated it. In contrast, only women had appreciated platforms, so that doubled its popularity.

Collectors Weekly: Who were the most influential postwar shoe designers?

Designed by Roger Vivier, 1960 - 1963, France

Roger Vivier for Christian Dior, 1960 – 1963, France

Semmelhack: My feeling is that postwar design revolves around Roger Vivier and Salvatore Ferragamo. Going forward in time, I begin to also look at fashion designers as important innovators of shoe design, sort of how Christian Dior was making clothing and then had Roger Vivier making complementary shoes. Likewise, Courrèges and Mary Quant were making clothing and also innovating the go-go boot, and so on, to complete their combined look.

For straight shoe design, you can’t ignore Beth Levine, one of the only female shoemakers of any renown in the 20th century. What I love about Beth’s designs is that she was not trained as a shoemaker. She was able to approach shoemaking from such a quizzical approach of, “Why not? Why can’t we make shoes out of paper? Why can’t we use this new product?” She was the one to innovate the use of Lycra in her stretch boots, and she was extremely witty. The witticism we see in a lot of footwear today really comes from her approach to shoe design.

Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin, becoming such celebrities in their own right in the late ’90s, certainly took what had been an important but more humble accessory, the shoe, and transformed it into a star accessory. The “everywoman,” whoever she is, is able to wear knockoffs of these designs, but it’s only the truly privileged who are able to wear the originals.

Collectors Weekly: How did a pair of Manolos or Louboutins become star accessories?

Semmelhack: I don’t think that it was the designers themselves who did it as much as the culture. Clearly their shoes are lovely, but over the course of the 20th century, you have a great loss of accessories in women’s wear. I like to use the hat as an example of that. If you think about watching “I Love Lucy” on TV, so often she’s walking by a hat shop and she stops to purchase a hat. Now she’s got to hide it from Ricky because God forbid he sees it. It’s the hat that she must have, the hat, the hat, the hat. Along the same lines, we had white gloves and we had pearls and we had other similar ways of expressing status.

With the loss of iconic accessories like those, shoes carry a greater burden of meaning. We now require shoes to really, as someone said, punctuate our fashionable outfit or unfashionable outfit, whatever we’re doing. They are increasingly a way of turning a generic outfit around, and I think that’s one of the reasons why shoes have become such a focal point of culture. We can read a lot into them.

But today, where fashion has been so democratized, you can have two women of wildly different socioeconomic standings or wildly different social constructs of themselves going into the same, say, Gap store and buying the exact same pair of jeans. One might wear her jeans with a pair of Manolo Blahniks, making one statement, while the other woman puts on a pair of Keds to go watch her kids play soccer, and she makes a different statement.

Collectors Weekly: Was it common for shoe designers to start their careers by working for somebody else before opening their own boutiques?

Semmelhack: Yes, that was pretty common. Christian Louboutin worked for Yves Saint Laurent, and then you have people like Vivienne Westwood and the late Alexander McQueen. These are fashion designers who are doing extreme shoe designs in addition to creating wild outfits. There were also designers like Bruno Frisoni working under the Roger Vivier name.

Collectors Weekly: How many different styles of heels exist today?

Semmelhack: I don’t think you can count them. I think that each shoemaker, each shoe design attempts to do a tiny, little twist. But in terms of just brute classification, you have a stiletto, which I would define as being very fine, very high heel. You have a kitten heel, which is a lower stiletto-shaped heel. You have platforms and you have wedges. That would cover the bases.

Collectors Weekly: What are some of the most interesting materials that have been used on the heel?

Designed by Herbert and Beth Levine, 1954, United States

Herbert and Beth Levine, 1954, United States

Semmelhack: Well, it’s not such a sexy answer because heels do have to support the weight of the wearer, so it has to be a very tough material. Having said that, though, in the ’70s a British shoe manufacturer named Rayne paired up with Wedgwood, the ceramics company. They made Wedgwood heels for Rayne shoes, and those are quite beautiful. They look like Wedgwood pottery. They’re very fine stilettos, but they’re made out of ceramic. There are quite a few still out there because they were mass-produced, but yes, they’re beautiful. They often come with matching clutches, with little Wedgwood cameos on them.

The practice of hand making shoes really stopped in the 1830s. There have always been bespoke shoemakers, and I think that even industrialized shoemaking, particularly of very high-end shoes, requires a great deal of skilled craftsmanship that cannot be mechanized. But there still is mechanization used even in the most well made, mass-produced pair of shoes.

Collectors Weekly: Who were the influential designers of the latter part of the 20th century?

Semmelhack: Manolo Blahnik stands out. Vivienne Westwood, the rise of Christian Louboutin, Andrea Pfister. Maud Frizon was very important in the ’80s. For YSL, a lot of shoes and boots were very influential. Chanel continues to be quite important. And Rayne was still making shoes in the late 20th century.

Each decade ushered in its new fashionable form of footwear. If the ’50s and early ’60s were marked by the stiletto, the mid-’60s and later ’60s were marked by little-girl style shoes from designers like Mary Quant and Courrèges—low-heeled child-wear-inspired footwear for women. Then, in the ’70s, we all remember the excessively high platforms, but that was also the decade when the stiletto was reintroduced.

In the ’80s there was the contrast between women’s working shoes and women’s evening shoes. Workday shoes were much more modest and low-heeled, incorporating some post-modernist design. And in the ’90s, once again, you had the revival of the very, very high stiletto. So it’s a bit of up and down for the heel in the late 20th century.

Collectors Weekly: What fueled the revival of the stiletto in the ’70s?

Semmelhack: In all honesty—and I would say this is the late ’70s because the mid-’70s is marked by these very chunky platforms similar to the ones worn in the 1940s—it is the increasing sexualization of fashion imagery. You begin to have fashion spreads in women’s magazines simulating the look of male-interest photography.

Designed by Yves Saint Laurent, 1985 - 1988

Yves Saint Laurent, 1985 – 1988, France

Throughout the course of the 20th century, the high heel goes in and out of women’s fashion, but it never goes out of style in men’s erotica. So you have this increasing meaning of high heels as erotic elements of women’s dress that is perpetuated through male-interest magazines. Each time fashion rejects the high heel and then reintroduces it, the way it’s reintroduced brings it closer to how it’s been represented in erotica.

In the early ’70s you have very high platforms. These are not featured in “Playboy” or magazines like that. They’re not considered erotic. They’re a part of fashion. And then when the high heel comes back in fashion during disco at the end of the ’70s and into the very early ’90s, fashion magazine spreads begin to look very, very similar to, say, “Penthouse” or “Playboy” magazine spreads.

The kind of presentation of the female body that was being seen in men’s erotica now becomes a part of the fashion media as well. It’s not as blatantly sexual, but it’s pretty close. And I think the pornographic aesthetic that is a constant in men’s magazines increasingly informs women’s magazines—in particular the role of the high heel, since it’s such an important accessory in erotic images.

Collectors Weekly: How about in the ’80s?

Semmelhack: In the ’80s, when many women entered the work world for the first time, there was all of this discussion about how they should present themselves. That’s where the dress-for-success look comes in, and that argued that women should dress in slightly feminized versions of the masculine suit and that they should wear feminine shoes but not overly sexualized shoes. So the heels were very low in a professional woman’s shoe wardrobe.

When Carrie Bradshaw says, ‘I have $40,000 worth of shoes, I could have had a down payment on a house’, that reinforces the idea that women are irrational about fashion.

In response to this safe-for-work presentation of femininity, fashion leaders and others argued that this working girl’s outfit was very de-sexing to women. So high fashion began to promote the power suit with a short skirt and very high stilettos. Similarly, the lingerie market, which began to boom in the ’80s, also promoted a very sexualized boudoir style with high heels. If you look at a Victoria’s Secret catalog from the ’80s, you see scantily clad women all wearing high heels, and if you didn’t know that it was a catalog geared to women, you might think it was a men’s-interest magazine.

The big questions in the ’80s were how sexy is the high heel; how important is the high heel to constructions of femininity; and can you project authority wearing high heels or do you lose it? There were two camps: One camp said you could not command authority if you wore tawdry shoes, and the other camp said you couldn’t have any femininity and sexual appeal if you didn’t wear high heels. Many women found themselves caught in the middle of this argument.

Lingerie, which could be hidden under a dowdy suit, was posited as a remedy to the de-sexing of the working woman. By this point, high heels, it can be argued, had become a form of lingerie because of their association with pornography. The high heel became extremely problematic for women because if they wore high heels to work, it’s as though they’re exposing their sexy lingerie. So they ended up typically saving their heels for after-hours and the evening.

A lot of Maud Frizon’s designs in the ’80s featured the cone heel, which was high but wider than a stiletto, so it didn’t have the same nuance of sexuality. But if you look at YSL or Givenchy during the ’80s, they were making very high stilettos. The Givenchy red high heel on the cover of my book is a very good example of sexualized high heels from the ’80s.

Collectors Weekly: What happened to high heels in the ’90s?

Semmelhack: The phenomenon of shoe designer as celebrity emerged. In the ’50s you might say, “My shoes are by Roger Vivier,” but the media hadn’t spread the concept of having a name designer for your shoes. It’s not until the ’90s that women talk about wearing their Manolos. Manolo Blahnik is a celebrity. Christian Louboutin is a celebrity. Their shoes become extremely desired objects within women’s wardrobes.

Stiletto heels designed by Christian Louboutin, 2007, France

Christian Louboutin, 2007, France

The cost of their shoes also becomes exceptionally high, and the ability to acquire such high heels becomes a signifier of social status, but it’s not just social status—it’s the fact that these designer shoes combine status and hypersexualization in the form of very, very high heels. This is at a moment when third-wave feminism is attempting to reclaim femininity—but that reclamation isn’t successful because it is immediately commercialized.

For me, the “shoeaholic” addiction to designer footwear links back to 18th-century concepts of female irrationality towards dress. In “Sex and the City” when Carrie Bradshaw opens up her closet and she says, “Oh, my God, I have $40,000 worth of shoes in my closet. I could actually have had a down payment on the house, but instead I’m going to be the little lady who lives in my shoes,” that reinforces a very old, misogynistic idea that women are irrational about fashion.

For example, in 2000, the “New York Times” wrote, “High heels are women’s power tools.” What’s problematic about that is that the power that is supposedly wielded by women in high heels is sexual power. And so it seems like what wins for women in the culture is not the Harvard education that you have and how many cases you correctly argue in court, it’s whether or not when you walk into a room, you make all the men want to drop to their knees.

For me that’s very problematic, because if the high heel is an accessory of female power—and if the definition of female power is sexual—that power has a very short shelf life. Is a 90-year-old woman in spike heels powerful or silly? Is a 12-year-old girl in spike heels powerful or inappropriate? So at what point is a woman allowed to be powerful? If her power is based simply on her sexuality, then that’s a very limited amount of time that women are permitted to be powerful.

Obviously, there are many, many different types of shoes, and even in one woman’s closet, she might have fabulous high-designer shoes, a pair of sneakers, and a pair of Prada bowling shoes. So it’s not that the high heel was making the only social statement in the 20th century. It’s just that the statement that high heels make is extremely complex and, by the end of the 20th century, it’s become intimately related to the construction of femininity and socioeconomic standing.

Collectors Weekly: Who are some of the most influential shoe designers on the scene today?

Evening sandal designed by Manolo Blahnik, 1995, Italy

Manolo Blahnik, 1995, England

Semmelhack: I think Alexander McQueen was doing some very interesting things. It’ll be interesting to see where his reinterpretation of the shoe leads. We’ve been seeing a lot of sculptural pieces coming out of Dior, YSL, Louis Vuitton, and Prada. Prada, in particular, I would argue, for quite a while now, at least the last 10 years, has been constantly attempting to do some interesting things with shoe design.

Revival is endemic to fashion right now. One of the things that I find frustrating is that, as Mrs. Bata has said, the human foot is basically the same wherever you are in the world, but what people have chosen to put on their feet is wildly different, depending on the time period and the culture that you’re looking at.

There are many different kinds of footwear solutions out there that other cultures have created. I would love to see a designer take inspiration not just from the past 20 years of Western dress, but maybe also from what happened 300 years ago in circumpolar dress. I think that some of the styles and some of the solutions that other cultures in other time periods have arrived at could be compellingly reinterpreted for today’s dress.

Collectors Weekly: If you could live in any era based on the shoes, what era would you choose?

Semmelhack: Absolutely right now. I think we have more choices today than we’ve ever had in the past. I actually would want to be a woman today if I had a choice because men have been so afraid of aspects of dress that their shoe wardrobe is pretty limited—some business shoes, maybe a sandal if they’re daring, maybe some sneakers. But women can have so many different types of shoes and express different nuances of their personalities through their footwear choices.

Eighteenth-century shoes are beautiful, but you always had to have them on. You couldn’t take them off and put on your sneakers. I can wear high heels, take them off, put on some sneakers and go for a jog. I feel that our footwear very much reflects the strides women have made because even if women are making bad choices from time to time, we still have choice.

Collectors Weekly: What advice would you give someone who is new to shoe collecting?

Designed by Roger Vivier, 1963, France

Roger Vivier, 1963, France

Semmelhack: My biggest piece of advice is to figure out your purpose for collecting. Are you collecting the shoes because of who wore them and you are interested in the life that person led while wearing that pair of shoes? One of the most fascinating shoes might be the most beat-up, unattractive pair you can imagine because it might have an incredible story—this pair of shoes walked around the world, or something like that. Are you collecting excellent examples of craftsmanship? Are you collecting examples of fashion trends? Are you collecting human-interest stories because these are artifacts that were worn by individuals?

If your motivation is purely aesthetic, then obviously you need to be looking at shoes in pristine condition. You want to make sure that you have the best example or the most beautifully crafted example that you can get your hands on. On the other hand, if you’re interested in the social meaning of a pair of shoes, you might look for evidence of wear. Were the shoes used for dance? How was the gait of the person who wore them? You might want to collect shoes that show how the foot fit into the shoe and see its wear patterns on the sole.

There’s so much information, so many questions that can be asked about just the high heel, which is only one aspect of one type of shoe from one cultural tradition. Imagine how many more unanswered questions there are about other types of shoes and what they reflect about the desires of society. I think that that’s what makes shoes so fascinating.

(All images in this article copyright the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada)

15 comments so far

  1. Sarah Scaturro Says:

    Wow, thank you Elizabeth for providing such thoughtful answers to the questions. I couldn’t help thinking about Ann Hollander’s Sex and Suits when you brought up the points about how high heels were originally male attire that women appropriated, as well as the tensions that exist when we view high heels as symbols of female sexual power. Some day I will get to visit the Bata!

  2. Elizabeth Semmelhack Says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for your comments. The history of the heel is fascinating and there is still a great deal of work left to be done! I hope that you do get a chance to visit the museum but in the mean time you can virtually visit the museum by going to our web page and seeing our online exhibitions, podcasts etc.

  3. Stacey Kelly Says:

    This article was so interesting!! Great read :)

  4. Pearl Westwood Says:

    What a great article! As an historian myself there is nothing I find more fascinating than the interactions between people and material culture. I write a fashion blog and love to reference back in history where I can, the evolution of design and function never fails to entice me. I think you have my dream job, and I hope to be able to visit the collection on day.

  5. Suze Says:

    Very interesting perspective of how shoes are intertwined with sociological cues and philosophy.

  6. cheap jerseys Says:

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the great work Look forward to reading more from you in the future. I think it will be also nice if you add “send to email” tool so people can forward the articles to their friends easily.


  7. Lewis Says:

    Although, it has been noted that men haven’t had an a great deal of interest in wearing high heels, since the French aristocracy were found by their high heels and then lost their heads. However, it also neglects to say anything about the existence of the many “sub-cultural” activities where males of all ages are getting and wearing them. The fact that heels are alluring and different footwear, tends to excite even the curious minds of the young and older children. The pretty looking shoes with the raised heel feels good on their feet. Then reality sets in as they become aware of the social attitude for the wearing of heels. The girls are delighted for their future, but the boys are told they aren’t suppose to want or like wearing heels. The problem is that boys like wearing heels just as much as the girls and no social edict can change that. To be fair, not all boys have the desire to wear heels, but then again there are girls who choose not to wear them either. For those boys, young men, and men who have the desire, they are caught between two states of mind. One, they have to conform to the social attitude to gain acceptance and credibility. Two, they have to hide away from others to fulfill the desires they have.

    As a result, high heels are worn by men behind closed doors or outside in secluded walks, they are worn by husbands as part of the foreplay with their spouse, in the activities that society has labeled crossdressing or female impersonating, under the cover of lengthy bootcut jeans or wide pants, and/or some men have chosen to wear heels openly with their male designated attire despite the social attitude towards men wearing heels.

    It’s a matter of personal choice. Choosing what others will like is a violation of others rights to be who they are. You wouldn’t want me to force you to like something, whether you do or not. Why is it okay for society to do it?

  8. Parents, shoes and a little horse. | Miss La Belle Says:

    […] “men were deemed rational and educatable; women were irrational, sentimental, and uneducatable. Dress…n was eventually linked to female desirability.” […]

  9. Stephanie Press Says:

    Semmelhack is a very good observer of human nature and the cycles of trends. Well done!

  10. ShaSha Miller Says:

    Saying women’s high heeled shoes=power is like saying the tortured bound feet of Chinese women=power. No, it did not, except in bed. These crippled females could only take short, mincing steps, not exactly a power stride. What do the tourtured, painfully deformed feet of high heel wearers say about women’s REAL place in our society? Someday, soon I hope, the swaybacked, everted butt, sexually provocative prance exhibited by high heel wearing women will seem as quaint and silly as the unfastened, noisily flapping open galoshes worn by trendy “flapper” GIRLS (not women) in the 1920’s– and then perhaps women and women’s ideas will be taken seriously.

  11. Yvonne Says:

    I seldom comment, but i did some searching and wound up here Sex, Power, and High Heels: An Interview with Shoe Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack | Collectors Weekly. And I do have a couple of questions for you if you usually do not mind. Could it be simply me or does it seem like a few of the responses appear as if they are left by brain dead individuals? :-P And, if you are posting on other places, I’d like to follow anything fresh you have to post. Would you make a list of the complete urls of your community pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  12. Soon Says:

    Awesome article.

  13. Marcy Says:

    Good write-up. I definitely love this site. Continue the good work!

  14. Angela Thomas Says:

    High heels as women’s power dress have a non-sexual function: to increase our height and therefore, our perceived dominance and status.

    Check Trump on “Liddle” Bob Corker and Marco Rubio. Males view height as dominance. From bullies to CEOs, the taller man generally wins.

    Women are somwhat limited in dominance displays by custom and biology. We are not usually physically threatening and full-bore eye contact is considered a sexual symbol. So we wear weapons on our feet to look taller, to look more slender (another status indicator) and to lengthen the perceived leg, for a mating advantage.

  15. Elizabeth Says:

    Hi Angela,

    I would counter with, why are women offered the high heel in order to gain height equity and not platforms? Seems to me that platforms would be easier to wear and could substantially increase height. In addition why are we uncomfortable with men of short stature wearing heels in order to increase height? I think that there is more going on than just attempts to appear taller.

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