Attempt to hypothesize the stiletto heels in sociological terms by making some psychological assumptions. Looking at 3 areas, a woman in relation to her environment (external), her sense of self (internal), and the culture she is influenced by.
Why do women wear heels? Is it because of men? Is it for men? Historically, men in the 1600’s were the first ones who wore shoes with heels, the best example is Louis XIV who began wearing red heeled shoes as seen in paintings. Aristocrats considers impracticality a status symbol, thus heels on shoes are strongly related to the elite. There’s an interesting similarities seen in ancient China and the practice of foot binding.
In history, it has been argued that women wear heels to appropriate masculine power. High heels, often argued in its functionality has a thin line crossing functionality and superficiality. The high heels meant to signifies elegance, yet quite often women cannot even walk in them, and this resulted in an opposing outcome of inelegance. In it’s functionality, we all need to wear some kind of footwear when we go out of the house, the first world question for people living an urban life are types of footwear. If we just strictly focus on footwear for women, culturally what footwear women choose to wear varied greatly, in countries where fashion is low on maslow’s hierarchy of needs, perhaps place such as Afghanistan, or Yemen, there’s very little reason to discuss what fashionable footwear are. Anyone who puts form over function, such as uncomfortable pair of heels are seeking to assert symbols, where you are not simply wearing clothes as a functional item, even more so in high heels where discomfort is almost a guarantee, and when women puts aesthetic ahead of comfort, this priority made her action a symbol. Impractical clothing and footwear has always been connected to aristocracy, elitism and wealth.
The emergence of high heels on women post 18th century when aristocratic men stopped wearing them, and women began to be portrayed wearing high heels in pornographic images. This could be is the link that connects women in heels with sexuality.
What happens to a woman’s body when they wear heels.
The meaning making of the stiletto's complexity is often overlooked.
One study from the Evolutionary Basis of Consumption found that wearing high heels elevates the buttocks by about 30 degrees thus lifting the female posture against gravity that comes with age. This elevation is seen as an enhancement of the visual pleasure or as known to be preferred by men. On the on hand high heels tendencies to cause podiatric injuries and bone deformity with long wear, yet it has also been argued by some Urologist that wearing high heels strengthened the pelvic floor muscle and thus may lead to improved sex life.
The physiology seen from the perspective of the male gaze expressed fondly in examples like the Marilyn Monroe gait, she was known to cut one of her heels by half an inch so as to accentuate the sexy wobble to her walk.
The arch of a woman’s back and chest changes when wearing high heels and the ventral arching of the spine (known also as the S curve) where her buttocks would face outwards, this is known as Lordosis. A sexual posture present in mammal. (Dogs, rats, sheeps, lions all do this) when they are in what is best known as the doggy style position. The Journal of Evolution and Human Behaviour researcher claims ‘We suggest that high heels may exaggerate the sex-specific aspects of the female walk which could cause sexual arousal in males and make women aware of potential competitors for mates
The physiology might be in discomfort but parts of women’s psychological influences seem to override the pain, and that might have a significant effect on a woman’s attitude. Walking in stiletto heels proves to be a challenge for many women, yet the seduction of the lengthening of her legs, the arch of her foot tightening around her glutes has powerful effect as her body adjusts to the shoes. There is an aesthetic consideration on the choice of high heels a woman choose to buy, often it isn’t related to practical thinking in whether she can walk with it or not. The typical assumptions on the male gaze on women and heels are the lengthening of her legs over her torso and the semiotic of sexual messages it sends out. The 9head drawings or fashion illustrations are good examples where this assumption is present.
Counter Argument relates to deformity: podiatry data advices that anything higher then 2 inch heels are bad for you, bad for your back and posture in general with long term use.
Other research has shown that the foot may also play an accomodative role in pathology elsewhere in the body, as there is a correlation between back, hip, and knee pain and the foot. For example, high heels throw the body out of alignment: Feet are forced up at an unnatural angle, the body is pushed forward, and the balls of the feet are supporting most of the body weight. In turn, the knees tense up, as more stress is put on them in order to keep the high-heeled individual upright. Over time, accelerated cartilage damage to the knees is inevitable
The psychological look of her physiology when the stiletto is worn. The state of her conscious and subconscious mind based on - the way she looks to others, the way she feels when seen by men or women. The way she feels when she walks in those heels projects a state of mind that might be different in a public area, and again if she was in specific social situations. The physiology of a woman wearing a stiletto at home in front of a mirror suggest the illusion we have bought into about what is desirable beauty. The premise of consumption, specifically of fashionable products such as the high heels are the buying of an idea that our sense of self is better off then when we are without it. When we are seduced by a pair of high heels, we are seduced by the idea of how our ‘body’ can transform, and most of the transformation is chiefly psychological, and that meaning-making formation is the basis of all super brands marketing strategy. Brands seen in the BBC documentaries, The Secret of Super Brands shows Adidas, Diesel and Abercrombie and Fitch doing exactly that. The selling of seduction that is successfully shown by the numerous Apple products one person owns these days, clearly incorporated the development of our brain’s improved sense of taste, and at the same time it’s inability to distinguish needs to want, and function to desire.
Her politics is involved in the psychology because she might inadvertently feel empowered, more confident, sexy. But some women has argued whether stillettos are a product to be dismissed as anti-feminism.
The physiology and psychology of the female body has been theorized in terms of proportions: A research done by Dr. Pawlowski from Wroclaw University in Poland:
The perfect legs need to be longer than your torso, but not to long. Male and female subjects were asked to evaluate the attractiveness of different silhouettes of a man and woman. They found that a person of average height (5ft 4in tall) was rated most attractive when their inside leg measurement was 30.5 in, which is 5% longer than the average leg measurement for a person that size.
Business psychologist Zoe Mayson claims on wearing heels at the work place “there are a lot of people who think women do themselves a disservice by wearing heels,… Heels give me gravitas that I would not have in lower shoes. Heels get you noticed and give you physical stature, which in turn, gives you power, without compromising your femininity. So often, women have to take on male attributes to be successful in the workplace, and this is a great way of digging our heels in and saying no.”
The statement indicated the power of wearing heels does to a woman and the psychological state of mind when in the shoes. A quote by Meg Ryan illustrates this.
Another quote by Diana Vreeland gives a little more insight to her views of women and how the unnatural is preferred.
Based on functionalism theory in sociology;
In their most basic form, all functionalist explanations hold that social phenomena persist if they contribute to social stability – and die off if they don’t. From the functionalist viewpoint, fashion trends come and go because they enable social inequality to persist. If they didn’t have this purpose, we wouldn’t have fashion cycles.
Applying this statement of theory to the high heels,
Historically, there definitely seems to be a correlation between heel size and the state of the economy: the height of women’s shoes has been shown to increase during periods of crisis. And this seemed to be similarly indicated by the rise and fall of hemlines.
It seems consistent historically what consumer product expert says about consumers turning into more extravagant, glamorous fashion items as a form of escapism during period of crisis, this was clearly shown in the 1940’s after the Great Depression when the world war II ended on the euphoric state expressed in the frivolity and glamour inspired fashion, one example was the the appearance of the Dior’s New Look in 1947 with its tailored cinch waistline opening up to a gown silhouette with a shorter hemline. The women was essentially ejected from war related occupations to be back at home and becoming the domestic goddess. This pattern of rising heels appeared again later during the 1970’s oil crisis and the 1990’s dot-com boom (which brings me to my case study: Christian Louboutin first started his shoe boutique in 1991). The height of heels seems to rise in slow but significant ways. Although the heel height seems to have reached new heights probably peaking in 2008-2009 with the introduction of platform in shoes and introducing the ‘hidden’ platform.
The platform in shoes originated from Turkey, what is known as the kabkab, which essentially is used only to elevate the foot away from the ground inside a Turkish bath (hamam). Later this platform idea has been integrated into the high heels from an entirely different angle and was actually not meant to lengthen the limbs.
The luxury designer high heels by Christian Louboutin will be used as a case study. Primarily seen from the perspective of sociological and it’s value in psychological terms talked about earlier. I will not be discussing the designer or the man despite his massive influence on the brands success. The red sole was founded accidentally when red nail polish was used in its discovery. Tying back to history, the red sole can be seen in history based on the image of the Coronation of Charles II, who had a red sole, Charles II took inspiration from the French King, Louis XIV which was the first image ever seen to wear a pair of 4 inch red heel with a red sole. Then it was theorized that this red sole and heel is to separate themselves as aristocrats and as to signify status. The symbolic red color of the sole can also symbolize sexual power, seen from the back as the woman walks away communicates a very strong seduction power to the male viewer.
Status symbol elements of the red sole since Louboutin started the company in 1991 proves the power of the French elegance seen in the simplicity of his first pair of heels called ‘Very Prive.’ A Peep toe high heels. The height of heels most popular was 120mm, most well known for its seductive and uncomfortable properties has women all over the world pining and saving and buying them. Young privilege girls receive them for their 21st birthdays. Danielle Steele was reported to own 6000 pairs. Louboutin reportedly never gives away his shoes, but instead he gives discounts. When asked what his advice was to women all over the world who could not afford his shoes, he said they should then choose to buy shoes they can afford.
To attempt answering the sociological question I posted earlier. How might Louboutin shoes enable social inequality therefor contributes to social stability. The social inequality created by the richer clientele is to manage a autograph, and to own pairs that are limited editions. Compare this to the inquality to the ownership of the first pair by a young clientele who saved up for it is pretty stark.
The main appeal of wearing expensive, new fashions is that wealthy clients can distinguish themselves from people who are less well off. Thus, fashion performs an important social function. By allowing people of different rank to distinguish themselves from one another, it helps to preserve the ordered layering of society into classes. (A social class is a position people occupy in a hierarchy that is shaped by economic criteria including wealth and income.) – I shall talk about this part in the case study, status symbol that seperates the different classes of women.
When applied to the context of high heels as a social phenomena, how does the high heels contribute to social stability since it has clearly not die off, it must in some functional way provide women and men with a functional purpose. How does this purpose enable social inequality? In the case of gender divide, many examples on androgynous elements has shown the use of high heels by men, and other genders, specifically transgender, transvestites, transsexual, not to mention the use of high heels in fetishism.
The clear picture on the shoes as a status symbol lies in a few elements. One of them that already shows to become an element Louboutin cannot control is the copying of the red sole. Many manufacturers has already used his red soles, despite his attempt to copyright it, and the many legal issues arising from trying to protect the specific use of the color on his soles. Fashion elements are permeable and desperately porous in this way, the other element that sets louboutins heels apart is the cut and fit of his higher heeled shoes, the quality is rivaled by other luxury designer shoes such as YSL, Fendi and also by his predecessors Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo, however there is the element of extreme arch that makes Louboutin shoes an undeniable fashion fetish.
Speaking specifically on the 120mm height of heels and extreme arch and low toe box, this is not attributes that applies to his lower heels and casual style of shoes, nor does it apply to his mens shoes. . Predominant influence on a woman psyche is the shape of the décolletage or toe cleavage, the height and narrowness of the heels. What is also interesting is the lack of concern on podiatric damage for the sake of beauty. The red sole sends out many symbolic messages. Predominantly the message has sexual connotation. Where the color red resonates closely to the red lipstick on a woman’s lips. There are very few who can wear the 120 mm without significant pain, the shoes are highly uncomfortable, and on purpose. He has been quoted to say that the heel is never high enough.
Is there something in these high heels that contributes to social stability? One of the essence of social stability are the place of gender identity, Is the fact that the high heels are so uncomfortable and only women who accepts that part of the cost of beauty is pain, thus the gender role remains intact. In terms of other gender usage of the high heels, the role of the high heels are used mainly in specific industries. Although it is ubiquitous it is only in certain areas, a few examples of that is the industry of pornography, fetishism or BDSM, the sex-work industry. The Luxury fashion industry tend to focus on heels to add elegance and class, and some of the differences lies in the design and the fit of the shoe and ofcourse in the heel height.
What I observe interesting is the dichotomy between what we consider classy and trashy in the case of heel height. Stiletto is an Italian word for pointy dagger, the sharpness of the stiletto heels aims to change the shape of the silhouette of women’s body, where as the chunkier heels and lower seem to communicate a whole different (matronly) silhouette and thus meaning.
Conclusion: In terms of the value of high heels in women, there is an arbitrary value set influenced by her psychology and her environment which made it possible for an object so uncomfortable to remain a trend. Eventhough the high heels are no longer just the privilege of the elite, it still proves to enable social inequality presented in the types of heels worn in different industries occupied by women, and at the same time it has arguably contributed to social stability by creating a sense of transferred masculinity and power.