The Origin of the Red High Heel: Surprising Back Story Behind Woman’s Most Coveted and Controversial Footwear
Most women and even men can easily identify the signature red soled shoes of French fashion designer Christian Louboutin. His design was very exclusive and not only associated with his shoe brand, but with one who had both status and wealth, having the ability to afford one of these well-heeled, luxurious fashion statements, selling between $400-1200 and higher a pair. At one point Louboutin felt that his design was so exclusive, he filed a lawsuit against fashion brand Yves Saint Laurent, claiming they had committed trademark infringement after it had manufactured and sold shoes with a similar red sole.
Yves Saint Laurent fired back with a statements and court arguments saying that Louboutin could not claim proprietary over the ruby red soles in the fashion industry claiming that they had been a staple of fashion back to the 1600’s.
Yves Saint Lauren would be right. Red-soled high heeled shoes were not an exclusive fashion breakthrough erupting from the “sole” of Mr. Louboutin, but have been an icon of fashion for close to four centuries believed to have a much more masculine, monarchical origin that one would have anticipated.
Not only was it not a female to first adorn beautiful red heels, King Louis XIV of France, was the first person to be noted and recorded (in paintings) as having worn them often. During the reign of Louis the XIV, aristocratic men had the right to wear shoes with red heels, (which were strictly restricted to the court). While the exact date of the first appearance of high heels is a little grey, not only was Louis XIV painted often while wearing them, he issued an edict in 1673 declaring that only nobility could wear the coveted red color. This included the law that no one could have heels higher than his highest pair of heels, which was five inches tall.
Why was the red high heel such a signature of royalty and status? First of all, no one was allowed to be higher than the King, height-wise. Heels helped to make him and others taller, as long as they weren’t taller than Louis XIV. Historically, the red color was said to be chosen because it was making the statement that the “nobles did not dirty their shoes,” and that it was synonymous with blood and crushing their enemies. A little bit harsher than Christian Louboutin’s inspiration of red inspired by women’s nail polish and lipstick, signifying seductive, passionate and flirtatious fashion and beauty statements.
Another reason why the shoes became such a sign of wealth and power is due to the sheer expense of the color. Some dyes were more readily available to everyone while others were both rare and expensive. Red, at the time, was made by crushing the dried bodies of an insect called cochineal that only the royals could afford. The larger portion of the population didn’t have the money to buy such luxuries.
Unfortunately the red heels made popular by the aristocratic society found their decline during the French Revolution when high-heels as well as “Louis” heels and high heels with the red soles were banned by Napoleon as an attempt to make a push for equality. Not only that, they were a symbol of luxury and opulence, something that the wealthy tried to avoid during the revolution for fear and safety reasons. As the recession of the economy, even the wealthy whose bank accounts had become lighter, were opting for a simpler, less expensive and more practical style of footwear.
Despite it’s brief disappearance the red heeled shoe resurfaced in the early 1900’s and made it’s way back into fashion over the years, but this time as an exclusive shoe for women, regaining their status of luxury and status within the fashion industry.