The heel originated as a practical and functional feature, and perhaps surprisingly it was men who started the trend. For centuries, men from western and central Asia had been wearing heeled footwear, enabling the foot to sit securely in the stirrup while riding, assisting their equestrian skills and fighting ability. Associated foremost with military might and masculinity, heels were enthusiastically adopted by European men during the second half of the 16th century. However, heels soon became purely fashionable, and upper-class women and children took to wearing them. Heels were of course alluringly impractical: their tendency to sink into the mud and to limit mobility served to declare the wearer as belonging to the upper echelons of society, with no concern for such normalities of life as working or indeed walking.

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Helen Persson — R/D

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