Friday, March 16, 2012


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've been watching singing competition shows religiously the last few weeks. (My semi-excuse for this is that I have a girl singer in the WIP, but the truth is that I would watch them anyway--The Sing Off, The Voice, and yes, American Idol.)

But whatever my rationale, it was while watching girls strut or totter across the stage in bizarrely high heels that I began to think about why we women do this to ourselves, and sparked by the historical mysteries I've been reading the last few weeks, WHEN we began to do this to ourselves.

In Lauren Willig's and Teresa Grant's books set in early 19th century Europe and Britain, I've gathered that women wore slippers. Or boots. Sensible, as they walked a lot, and the dances at all those balls were serious aerobic exercise! And then in Rhys Bowen's early 20th century Molly Murphy books, Molly and the other women seem to wear reasonably practical shoes, although Molly does complain about climbing an ivy vine up a wall in her "pointed and impractical shoes."

So, I wondered, were the tortuous heels a mid-to-late 20th century development?

It should be obvious by now that I am no fashionista, but little did I realize the extent of my ignorance!

I don't know if there's any evidence of pre-literate humans wearing high heeled shoes, but the Egyptians did. The upper classes, both male and female, wore them as a mark of status. And Egyptian butchers wore them for more grisly reasons--to keep their feet out of the slaughterhouse blood. Greeks and Romans wore them. Pattens and chopines
were invented in the Middle Ages, outer wooden platforms that kept expensive inner shoes out of the mud and manure. (Yes, that is a shoe on the right...)

Catherine de Medici is said to have introduced the formal high heel in the 1530s, and we have been up and down--excuse the pun--ever since.

The feminist revolt of the 1970s against high heels as symbols of male subjugation didn't last long. (Think Sex in the City.) Heels now are higher than ever, and some women are even having their feet surgically altered to fit more comfortably into stilettos. Ouch.

If you want to know more, here's a fascinating little history here:

So what about you, REDS and readers? Low or high? Manolo Blahnik's or Birkenstocks? And to our guys, do you notice--or care--when women wear heels?

While, like Catherine de Medici, I could use the extra height, and I'll wear a moderate heel when absolutely necessary for dressing up, I otherwise live in my Teva's...

(P.S.--the winner of Lauren Willig's The Garden Intrigue is Reine! So, Reine, if you'll send me your mailing address at deb at deborahcrombie dot com, I'll pass it along. You lucky girl, you.)


  1. I won GARDEN OF INTRIGUE? Wow! I was hoping I'd win! Yay! I spent a ton on books at the Tucson Festival of Books this year and was wondering when my cards would have enough room on them so I could buy more. But I won Lauren's book! Thank you!

    Now. Back in the atmosphere with shoes. Strictly clunky chunky low heels for me now for my braces, BUT there is good news... dah da da dah... since I've lost 85lbs I qualified for new carbon fiber braces and they are almost ready for me. I got the "Mystery Forest" design, because they were out of the "Mystery Characters" one. I am sooooo excited, because if you can't wear beautiful shoes what could possibly be better than the Mystery Forest on your girly legs!?

    PS: Captha is much easier today! xox

  2. I guess I'm still stuck in the 70s, then. Haven't worn a heel higher than an inch since, and that's only once every few years when I have to attend a wedding. Birkinstocks and other flat, sensible shoes and boots are my everyday footwear.

    I don't know about most men, but mine often remarks how ridiculous the news anchors who wear high heels look (sorry, Hank!), so I know he's not pining for me to copy them.

  3. Athletic shoes most of the time, or loafers, but high heels--definitely!--for any occasion that could reasonably call for them: church, book signings, out to dinner, speaking engagements. (No higher than 4", though. Some of the new 5-6" shoes scare me.)

  4. Congratulations, Reine!

    Love the look of high heels, but since my husband of 30 years is now shorter than I am, I have not really worn heels much in a couple of decades. And because of not wearing them, now I have a hard time doing so. It was probably a good thing, I reluctantly admit.

    I have tiny feet, a size 6, which is ridiculous for someone my height, but it also makes it much more difficult to wear really high heels. My feet are just too short! Sky-high heels mean I'd be en pointe in them, which is just silly. But they look so cool, don't they? Hank always has gorgeous shoes, every time I've ever seen her!

    Love the retrospective on footwear with high heels, but didn't men also wear them? Seems to me male Chinese of a certain social strata were known to wear shoes that elevated them, and of course one of the French Louis kings was famous for his insanely high heels.

  5. Are we making a distinction between what I BUY and what I actually WEAR? Most of the time I wear sneakers or boots but I have a closet full of heels. No stilettos though, even walking two blocks to get a cab is torture in them. But kitten heels, d'orsays, platforms, towering wedges - YES!! I want to be taller.
    I haven't mastered the changing into flats thing mostly because I'm not a ballet flat person. I have to say...I don't get ballet flats. They're not that comfortable and NONE of us is Audrey Hepburn so can we quit pretending they're flattering? Okay...maybe Jan could wear them and look good. And Hank. She could wear a flour sack and look good.

  6. Karen in Ohio, I also wear a size 6. I used to wear a 5.5 and had to buy shoes in the little girls' dept but I guess I had a growth spurt. It's nice to wear sandals without a Disney princess on them.

    Anyway, I refuse to wear heels because they're damaging to my self-esteem when I fall over. I'm happy with flats, which are pretty, although now all the rage seems to be cowboy boots. If this is your thing, my dad (a cowboy) advises women to buy men's or little boy's cowboy boots because they're made for work, not fashion, and he also says you should buy them at a feed store. :)

  7. At the moment I'm wearing a pair of crocs with a pile lining. They're not at all attractive but they're warm and oh so comfortable. Outside the house it's boots or running shoes.

  8. Hey, I'm a size 6, too. And cowboy boots at the feed store? I love it. Number one errand for tomorrow!

  9. I am totally jealous of Edith and Ramona and you Cinderellas out there with the tiny feet. Being large footed, I'm convinced that its the sizing that changed (when we started importing all our shoes, I'm blaming on the Europeans) because my size 9 1/2 tap shoes from high school still fit my NOW size 11 feet.

    Anyway, when you are almost five feet ten and your husband is five feet eleven, you don't wear a lot of high heels.

    BUT after many years of completely eshewing high heels - because who needed the height anyway - I realized how great they make your legs look.

    I think that's the real reason women wear them, and being from a long line of shallow women, I wear them occassionally now, too. But nothing over three inches.

    What an interesting post, Debs! I'm researching the 19th century now and they are always in SLIPPERs or boots and I never even thought of the history of their footwear.

  10. Ive always envied women who could wear stilettos (yes, you Hank!) but my feet kill me after half an hour of anything higher than an inch or so.
    at home I'm barefoot for most of the year. I get the shoes out for formal events--but they have to be comfortable as well as elegant.

  11. The last time I wore heels of any sort was at my wedding in 2005.

    I was so out of the habit of walking in heels I had to practice in the weeks leading up to the big event. I clomped around the house for 15 minutes or so every day, which a) built my confidence and (b) kept me from getting new-shoe blisters on the wedding day itself.

    I know I haven't worn those heels again, and don't own any others.

    Today I am shod in Clark's Muckers because it's mud season here in Maine.

    Brenda B.

  12. Haven't worn heels in years.. or pantyhose... thank goodness. I was never that graceful as a child.. so it's just as well that the only heels I wore were in the 1-2 inch range... I can't imagine teetering around on the current styles.. but secretly, wish I could.. along with being 5'8" and weighing about 114 lbs.. with much better figure measurements...

  13. Three INCH...three heels would make her lopsided...

  14. The last time I wore a heel was at a high school reunion eight years ago. They weren't even that high--three inches. I somehow strained my lower back, and ever since, it goes hinky on me. :-(

    I love me some platforms though, as long as the heel isn't that much higher than the toe. (I'm 5'10" but I don't mind being over 6 feet -- it's fun!)

    Shoe fashions are amazing these days, but I must say, with the huge elevated heels, and the platform beneath the ball of the foot, and the multiple straps doing the gladiator thing past the ankle--well, the shoes overpower the clothes at times. It's like when shoulder bags got to be so huge and ornate a few years back--like freaking suitcases hanging off shoulders.

    My question is: What's with the supersizing of bags and now shoes?

  15. Jan, I'm with you. I can still wear shoes from years ago that were 9s, but when I buy today, I must buy 11s.

    Since I'm tall with the broad shoulders of a linebacker (even before I got fat), heels have never been my friend. I gave them up gladly in the 70s and have never really returned. Now, I simply would not be able to wear them, due to my damaged back and knees. My husband is repulsed when he sees women in 5" or higher heels, stumbling along, especially the ones with long narrow pointed toes (that often require amputation of the little toe).

    A friend said she wears very high heels because they make her look slimmer, but that's like the idea of wearing only black to look slimmer. I could dress all in black and wear skyscraper heels, but I'll still look like me, only more ridiculous. So flats and lots of color are my choices.

  16. Linda,
    I'm glad I FINALLY got someone to agree with me on the inflation of shoe sizes. Whether it is true or not, it makes ME feel a LOT BETTER.

    Lisa, I don't get the super sizing of shoes and handbags either. Since, I am tall, when I carry a really large handbag on my shoulder, I could give someone else a concussion.

    I admire your go-for-the-height attitude. And thanks, Ro, I loved being called a Glamazon!

  17. Oh sigh, with plantar fascitis, I simply cannot wear glamorous shoes, including high heels. I waitressed during college years and we wore long black skirts and high heels. I guess the tips were better but not sure how we stumbled around carrying all those dishes!

    I'm dying for a pair of cowboy boots but not the kind with pointy toes. And need a good arch support. any suggestions? Ro always looks great in hers...

  18. I am very short--under five feet tall.I'm always trying to find comfortable shoes to give me a little lift for business. But only a daily basis, I wear athletic shoes and clogs. I'm all about the comfort. If my feet aren't happy, I am miserable. Great post!

  19. Oh, this so fun. Hi from Florida, where I'm sitting at a sidewalk cafe in my flip flops. Heaven. Does anybody else think Joss Stone looks incredibly sexy on stage barefoot, or am I just weird? Funniest thing--the Tevas I pulled up on Google images are actually my sandles, bought from

    Glad to know some of you did the extra reading assignment:-)

  20. Ramona, of COURSE you buy boots at the feed store. Jeans, too. Love Big R! And Lucy, try acupuncture.

    Leslie, currently wearing fringed, ankle-boot moccasins with no heel whatsoever

  21. Even though I'm short, no stilettos for me! It pains me to even see some women attempting to wear the "fashionable" shoe of the day!

    You will find me barefooted most of the time. When I am shod, it's usually running shoes or hiking boots - maybe cowboy boots!

    When I absolutely cannot wear any of the above, a fairly low chunky, clunky (but very comfortable!) is as high as I go.

    No torture for me!

  22. Damn. Lost my connection, and therefore my post,while proofreading. Will try to reconstruct it.

    Reine,congratulations on the book and on the decorative braces! I was recently looking at a website that features various kinds of braces and was impressed at the choices. When I had to wear a heavy duty bodycast type of brace after spinal fusion surgery, I decorated it with decals and stickers that expressed my opinion of the damn thing.Lots of spiders,which I hate,the words Boa Constrictor,because that's what it felt like while wearing it, and one tiny butterfly,because I was hoping for a positive transformation when the whole thing was over and done. Nice to know that these companies realize that the customers may wish to personalize their products.

    NO heels for me for many decades,thanks to back/foot problems. Sneakers and some orthopedic type of foottwear are what I wear. I keep a couple of pairs of dressier flats, NOT ballet flats,on hand for weddings. Even those can be difficult to wear. I love my sneakers!

    It amused me many years ago when I still occasionally wore half inch heels to have one of my sisters exclaim "you have the same flats I have!" I teetered along n those so-called flats!

    Okay...fourth attempt to send...three at lunch time and this one. So many captcha words today!If it ends up posting more than once,I apologize!

  23. Oh running in. .. In heels ! Kind of part of the job . But I always have flats in my purse. And I wear size 9 1/2.

    Ro xxxxxxx thank you

  24. Was out working in the garden all day, so missed this great conversation!

    Ramona, I used to be a 5, then after my second kid, a 5 1/2. Third kid came along: 6. Which screwed up my shoe modeling career--they only wanted size 5's. 5 1/2 was pushing it. Shoe and hand models make 1/3 more than runway models; it's a nice way to pick up extra cash. Now I'm too old, anyway.

    Those of you who want cowboy boots, cheap, check antique stores. I've bought two pair of bodacious boots, used. One pair was from the 70's, navy and turquoise (cute as a bug): $20. The other pair are red and they were $30. I also found $1,000 custommade riding boots for $50. They needed a new heel, which cost $20.