Evolution of the Platform Shoe

shoes, fashion, high heels, sex appeal, platform shoes

We used to call these FM pumps (f**k me) because they weren’t meant to be walked in. Creative Commons: by extraitaly flickr phil sidek gallery.

I’ve been noticing the ultra high heels that are in fashion now; stiletto heels, with a platform front. Because I spent far too many years in four-inch heels or higher I now have to watch what I wear, though with smart shopping and choosing the time to wear my shoe I can get away with a heel if not quite that high. So, obviously the current fashion has decided women need to be uber tall or that they need to be uber sexy on super spiky heels but because many women would feel a little unbalanced, the platform has been added which takes down the overall height from your heel to your toe.

shoes, medieval shoe, heels, fashion, style, footwear

The medieval shoe never had much of a heel, except for doubled layers of leather. From: feastgarb.tumblr.com

While the hyper sexualization of our society is partly to blame for everyone having to wear FM pumps now, these are not in fact the tallest shoes in history. The history of the platform shoe begins centuries ago. Japan of course had the geta or wooden sandals but if we look at Europe, there is a wealth of information there.

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This is a reproduction of the medieval shoe, with pattens. From: The Art Room Plant

To understand how a wood-based or platformed shoe came about one must  understand that early shoes throughout Europe were only made of leather. As the technology and understanding of patternmaking progressed shoes had firmer and thicker soles, usually made up of several pieces of thick leather and might also have been boiled leather, a process of penetrating the leather with liquid beeswax, which not only hardens the leather but also makes it waterproof. Remember that lanes and paths would only be of mother earth and slowly developed into wood planks and cobblestones. Even walking in Europe last year with rubber-soled shoes, I found some of those cobblestones rather hard to walk upon.

shoes, fashion, footwear, chopine, pianella

The chopine, still made for a shoe or slipper to fit into it. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

No matter how well you waterproof something, if you’re walking through sucking mud and rain a lot your shoes are going to get ruined, and unlike people today, buying a new pair from a cobbler might be a year’s worth of spare change. People preserved their clothing and wore them out, often reusing parts in a new piece. One of the answers to uncomfortable cobblestones and mud was to use the patten. This was a wooden base that you slipped the leather shoe into. Shoes would eventually develop a heel made of wood.

Fashion always played  a part and as you can see by the red shoes, color and shape were important. The points of shoes got to ridiculous lengths and had to be gartered to the calf. And of course they rose to a silly height.

chopines, shoes, platform shoes, fashion, footwear, Renaissance shoes

Chopines of the Venetian bent. From the Bata shoe museum.

Enter the Renaissance, those crazy kids who loved color and men in tights and other fun stuff like Machiavelli. The Italians invented the chopines. They didn’t just look at the utilitarian aspects of keeping out of the mud; they looked at the prestige of being able to tower over your neighbor. Consider platforms that are 30 inches tall! Yes, one could show off their wealth by walking around on these mini stilts, with the help of two assistants.

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1940 platform shoes were modest. From: the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute

Sanity and shoe heights leveled out after that but the first 20th century platform was the peekaboo toe shoe of the 1940s (my favorite). This was a shoe with a heel and a modest platform of an inch at most. Of course the Renaissance was revisited in the 1970s with the blocky platform sandal and pretty much from there we have seen every evolution of the platform (platform sports shoes) since then. Except…no one has gone back to the towering heights of the chopine, probably because in this litigious society shoe companies would be sued out of existence.

Except maybe Alexander McQueen’s frightening horse hoof shoes. They’re insanely tall (though not quite 30 inches) and are the equivalent of monster trucks for people. I can’t say I’ve seen these catch on with anyone yet, and probably with good reason. Maybe next we’ll have pogo platforms. What fun those will be.

shoe, footwear, high heels, platform shoe, alexander mcqueen, fashion

The snake had indigestion. Possibly the ugliest platform in creation, Alexander McQueen’s creation.

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3 Comments

Filed under Culture, fashion, history

3 responses to “Evolution of the Platform Shoe

  1. Loved the article, Colleen: reminded me of Isolde’s chopines which were carved of wood, painted gold and decorated with silk braid. She even hung a little tassel in the space under the heel. :)

    I’m rather glad we haven’t reached the heights of silly they did, but I will say that Alexander McQueen’s “pony” shoes semmed headed that way. I note that most of mainstream society hasn’t followed his vision of future fashions, though, which makes me glad, then question my own aesthetic biases, then glad again. :)

    • colleenanderson

      Thanks for reminding me. I forgot to add that rather ugly thing. I’ll post a picture of the pony shoe as well. :)

  2. Bunny Eats Design

    Great article. My great grandmother had her feet bound and I thank my lucky stars that if I choose to cripple my feet wearing heels, at least it’s my choice. I do prefer flats though.

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