Simanaitis Says

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RESEARCHING A recent item on the British workplace, Parliament and women forced to wear high heels, I stumbled (could it have been the heels?) on an interesting fact: The most masculine of images, the American cowboy, struts around in heels, as did 16th-century Persian cavalrymen, Louis XIV of France and, in time, women fashionably following masculine style.


Very special cowboy boots, custom-made for President Harry S Truman by Tony Lama Co.

A boot intended for horse riding has an exaggerated heel to stabilize its wearer when erect in the saddle’s stirrups. These heels permitted the 16th-century cavalrymen of Persian Shah Abbas to free their hands for weaponry. Later, shoes with such heels became an element of 17th-Century Persian men’s fashion and beyond.


Two examples of 17th-century Persian men’s shoes from the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada. This, the following images and insights from BBC News.

In 1599, Shah Abbas sent a diplomatic mission to the courts of Russia, Germany and Spain. Soon, Western European aristos became enamored of all things Persian, including its men’s high heels. When even the lower ranks found it chic, aristos responded by increasing the height of the heels—and even by specifying the color.

Was male stature part of this? Consider Louis XIV, who ruled France from 1643 to 1715. King Louis (whom the BBC article calls “the Imelda Marcos of his day”) was 5 ft. 4 in., diminutive even for the era. He augmented his stature with 4-in. heels.


Louis XIV of France struts his stuff, including 4-in. heels, in a 1701 portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud.

In general, the colors red and its related purple were especially difficult and expensive to formulate. BBC reports, “In the 1670s, Louis issued an edict that only members of his court were allowed to wear red heels.”

That would show the rabble just who was who.


A men’s high heel during the height of its European fashion, the 17th century.

In the 1630s, along came another trend: women emulating men’s fashion. Less elaborate hairdos became the thing for women, as did epaulettes on outfits—and high heels. For a while there, unisex was the mode, if not the nomenclature.

The Enlightenment of the late 17th century led eventually to the Great Male Renunciation at the end of the 1700s: Men abandoned ostentation in favor of somber colors and less elaborate clothing and footwear. Boots were still okay, but exaggerated heels lost masculine appeal.


Coat of Arms of the Aresches municipality in France. In heraldic lingo: “Gules a chevron Argent impaling Gules a riding thigh-boot with spur and spur rowel all Or.” Image by Chatsam.

Tex, his pals, other equestrian types and those of challenged stature persist in their strut. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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