Monday, April 5, 2010

Louis XIV Heel: Status and Seduction

Contrary to popular knowledge, Louis XIV of France was not the first prominent figure in history to institute the wearing of high-heels among the aristocracy. Previous to his reign, high-heeled shoes had been favoured by a variety of social strata throughout history (including Venetian royalty, Egyptian butchers, and Roman prostitutes). High heels were first introduced to the French Court by the Italian Catherine di Medici, as a way to augment her somewhat diminutive (she was under 5' tall) stature at the court of her husband, the Duke of Orleans. Inevitably, high-heels came to be seen as a mark of wealth and status by the close of the 16th century.

Louis XVI's adoption of the high-heeled shoe (for himself and those at his court) was notoriously spectacular. He ordered intricate, ornate shoes made, which would often include entire battle scenes carved into the heel. Declarations in regards to high heel decorum (only the aristocracy were permitted to wear red heels, no heel was to be higher than the King's) were frequent occurrences at court. The high-heel synonymous with the rule of "The Sun King" achieved a cult fetish following amongst the elite and bourgeoisie alike. Various authors eroticized the high in their works, and fashionable women of the time would often bind their feet to easier fit into the high, narrow models favored at court.

The eventual backlash against the high-heel in its aristocratic incarnation occurred during the French Revolution (in a somewhat telling gesture, Marie Antoinette ascended the scaffold wearing 2-inch heels). In favour of pursuing equality under his reign, Napoleon "banished" the heel from French society. Though the Louis heel has been reduced to an ornate, exquisite (and often torturous) artifact, the high heel continues to be an emblem of rank, entitlement, and sexuality.

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