The world’s most successful fashion brands pushed skirts and heels for their menswear collections for Spring/Summer ‘21. This progressive approach to clothing may be more old-fashioned than you think.
Some people may look at shoe designer extraordinaire Christian Louboutin’s men’s Summer 2021 collection askance. The sparkling rhinestones dancing on dark, soft suede is not the typical image we get when we think of men’s footwear. Add a heel to this ankle boot and we’re treading on unfamiliar territory as far as men’s footwear is concerned.
But men wearing high heels is not a new, or novel concept. In fact, the trend is already taking off in certain circles. World-renowned shoe designer Jimmy Choo sums up everything we need to know about high heels for men.
“High-heeled shoes for men are unlike stilettos. The heel shape is adapted from the basic Cuban heel into a special shape that will bring out the best in the masculinity of the man wearing it.” The fashion designer said some of his female friends have requested a pair of high-heeled shoes for the men in their lives.
For decades men have gotten away with being able to wear flatter, more comfortable shoes than women. But, as we all know, fashion is cyclical - what was at the height of style in the 90s is á la mode again. Designers rarely dive so deep into history to resurrect trends from the Renaissance, or even the Middle Ages, but that’s exactly where the style of high-heeled men’s shoes began.
Centuries before women were strutting in 6-inch stilettos it was men who rocked a heel. The first iterations of the high heel that we know of were worn by Persian cavalrymen in the 10th century.
Their heels gave them the stability in the stirrups they needed in order to shoot their bows and arrows when hunting and going into battle. Like owners of certain car brands today, the ego of these men quickly took over and they began sporting their heels even when they were off the saddle. Owning a horse was a symbol of affluence, and a pair of heels let people know you had your very own trusty steed.
In the 15th century, the Persian Shah began sending delegations of ambassadors to the royal courts of Europe. Their first port of call was Venice. The ‘great and the good’ of Venice were inspired by the heels of their eastern counterparts and they began to fashion their own. The Venetian high heel was the perfect combination of fashion and function as they helped the wealthy navigate the murky waters that flooded the city.
Some of these heels reached heights Lady Gaga would be jealous of - 54cm to be exact. Young maids and grooms were often used as ‘human crutches’. There’s also evidence that politicians and courtiers in London wore a form of the high-heeled shoe to step from their boats and barges to ascend the steps from the Thames to the Houses of Parliament. Persian migrants were the fashion influencers of the 15th century.
In 1673, the ostentatious King Louis XIV, who bankrupted France to build Versailles, and gave himself the nickname of the Sun King, introduced shoes with red heels and red soles to the French court. He restricted the wearing of such shoes to his circle of male nobles by way of an official edict. The practice was later taken up by royalty across Europe and became highly fashionable. 17th-century men’s fashion became all about emphasising the legs; high heels, tight coloured stockings, and loose uncollected britches all helped men show off their shapely pins. However, in the 18th-century footwear became more gendered.
The narrow, ornamental high heel became seen as feminine compared to the more sturdy, broader military boot. It wasn’t until roughly 200 years later in 1961 when, legend has it that John Lennon and Paul McCartney bought four pairs of boots in a M. Costello Chelsea boutique to suit the image for their little band, The Beatles, just like that heels for men were back in fashion. Now here we are again, or so it would seem.
The relatively staid world of men’s fashion is becoming more open to new styles of clothing. In their latest couture collection released at the end of January, Givenchy sent male models down the runway wearing exquisite hand-beaded gowns. For their ready to wear menswear collections Louis Vuitton, Stefan Cooke, and Burberry models sported skirts in a variety of pleats and patterns. Over the past year in particular, guys playing with traditional gender in their fashion are gaining greater traction on social media. Think the gender-fluid line launched by Jaden Smith. However, much like heels, the men of the past were accustomed to wearing skirt-like garments; from the Japanese kimono to the Scottish kilt.
One fashionisto whose wardrobe revolves around skirts and heels is Mark Bryan.
Mark Bryan works as a mechanical engineer in Germany, he relocated there from the US, he is head coach of a football team, a dad of three, and his wife of 11 years often gives him fashion tips.
Recently Bryan has made a splash on the internet for pushing the boundaries of gendered fashion.
Bryan loves wearing a skirt and heels around the house, in public, and even at the office. He proudly shares some of his favourite outfits on his Instagram page and is speaking out about how his clothing choices are just as normal as anything else he does. After a quick virtual chat with Mark, the whole concept of men’s and women’s clothes seems redundant. Mark initially started wearing heels when he was 21 because he wanted to be the same height as his taller girlfriend.
Five years ago he began wearing heels, paired with skirts “full-time”, Mark sticks to skirts, he says, “dresses are a pain in the ass” because it's difficult to get a dress that fits a man’s chest and shoulders. One of his biggest style inspirations is Rachel Zane from Suits, played by Meghan Markle. He is a fan of her typical blouse and skirt combo on the TV series. He sought to incorporate her style into his own wardrobe.
As for looking to the well-heeled men of the past Mark feels that men were not as restricted by their gender, or masculine and feminine ideals as we are today. “Men were seen as men no matter what they wore”, says Mark.
The fashion designer Harris Reed who is basically fresh from university, and already dressing the likes of Harry Styles, and Miley Cyrus, and has secured himself a Mac makeup collection sums up a perspective that we should all take, “I hope society begins to accept someone wearing a bit of make- up or a pair of shiny boots”.
Thus, for today and in the future, anyone, regardless of their gender who wears high-heeled shoes are just paying a fashionable tribute to the past.