Culture //

The Heel and You and I

Winter was coming, nay, it had arrived, and you could hear me from a mile away, clippity-clopping my way up and down the steps of the Social Sciences Building feeling like I was on top of the world.

Art by Margot Roberts

I’ve spent many nights scrolling through apps on my phone. TikTok, exploring pages on Instagram, and occasionally lesser-used apps like Goodreads. But what I find to be the most exhilarating at one in the morning, on a hardly exceptional Tuesday, is Pinterest. The miraculous visual discovery engine has given me too many aesthetic ideas in the past few years. A yellow-painted bedroom wall, a complete reorganisation of my desk space, and an odd fashion tip here and there.

On a particularly unordinary Tuesday morning about a year or so ago, scrolling through Pinterest for outfit ideas seemed to be the bane of my existence. Reinventing myself was part of the University experience, but until that point, the only thing I had changed was the length of my hair and the odd mix of electives unrelated to my disciplines. What I was looking for was revival. A comeback so jaw dropping and unmatched that no one would have any idea what I was actually coming back from.

And so, there it was. In the bottom quarter of a very stylish photo of a very stylish gentleman with a very stylish outfit was the heeled boot. And when I say heeled, I’m talking off-the-ground heeled. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. And I’m assuming, it was unlike anything anyone else had seen before. This was exactly the problem that lurked over my conscience.

The clock continued to tick and chime and do whatever else it usually does, but my mind was racing, and my heart found itself in the proverbial “right place”. I scavenged through every website I could think of, every fashion page I followed, and every blog I kept up with, desperate to find something akin to the Pinterest post. And alas, there it was. A pair of glamorous 5cm black heeled boots, unlike anything I had ever seen. So pointy they could deflate a baboon’s bottom or stab a magpie’s eye out. So glossy that it could reflect the sun’s beams in a cool, superhero fashion. And to top it all off, a subtle, but sexy, black lightning bolt nodding to the, well, sexiness of the heel itself.

Despite social taboos and the scent of fragile masculinity lingering from my residence all the way to City Road, I hit purchase and a week or two later, sexiness became my middle name. Winter was coming, nay, it had arrived, and you could hear me from a mile away, clippity-clopping my way up and down the steps of the Social Sciences Building feeling like I was on top of the world.

So, this is what my ancestors must have felt like. This is what it meant to march into the battle and return victorious. Now a fierce symbol of femininity — strutted on runways and sensationalised — the humble-heeled shoe once strictly belonged to the realm of the masculine. 

The heel emerged on the brink of the tenth-century. The Persian cavalry who, when riding horses, wanted to keep their feet sturdier in their stirrups. Their use of heeled shoes captured the aesthetic interests of the general public, and by the seventeenth century, heels became a symbol of power and status for those who wore them. With the departure of Persian diplomats to imperial courts in Europe, the craze for the Persianate world flourished.

The modern heel has continued to be prevalent in modern life. The Cuban heel is significant in traditional flamenco dance. The heel became a key part of decade-defining looks in the 70s (platform shoes), 80s (chunky-heeled huarache-style) and 90s (kitten heels).

The more and more I reflect on the heel —  such a powerful piece of plastic, suede, and/or leather —  the more and more I associate it with power. The power of Persian nobility and its adaptations in other empires lives on, and are celebrated, in different forms today. Whilst not always the case, these examples of heels portray men in a way we don’t often see. 

There is also an entire community of gender non-conforming people and drag artists who also use the heel in a subversion of gender norms. 

Although a pair of shoes aren’t the only thing that energise such great feelings of power and self-esteem, they sure are a leg up. They can act as a very literal symbol of overcoming a contaminated and restrictive approach towards masculinity, even though they are frequently only associated with femininity. 

If you hear footsteps approaching you on campus, know that it’s me. Rain, hail, or shine, those heeled boots will make an appearance, unless I don’t have anything dapper enough to match them with, but that’s another story.