Well heeled – the history of the stiletto Getting ready for a night out, many women need a final touch to feel done, before they feel ready to go out (usually sans coat and sensible shoes.) A swipe of lipstick, a smudge of perfume, a slick of eyeliner. For me, it’s a heel. And no, platforms and god forbid, wedges, just don’t cut it. Adele Baxby reports on the history of the stiletto. Slipping your feet into a stiletto heel you feel instantly elegant, powerful and sexy. And women for hundreds of years have been donning stilettos to feel this way. To be classed as a stiletto a shoe must have a heel with a diameter measuring less than half a centimetre and a height of between one and eight inches. Named after the stiletto dagger, the shoe can be traced back to 4000BC, when ancient Egyptians painted depictions of the shoe on the walls of tombs. Stilettos have always been associated with power and luxury. The term ‘well heeled’ came about in the 16th century, to suggest wealthy and therefore able to afford fabulous shoes. The aristocracy of the 16th century believed the higher the heel, the higher the social status and some women would wear heels up to 24 inches high and have to be helped into them by servants. Marie Antoinette, a queen famed for her extravagance and excess wanted to look her best on her execution day in 1793 so donned a two inch pair of stilettos. Sex and stilettos have always gone hand in hand. Any femme fatale is incomplete without a pair of killer heels, and fetish drawings show women them as far back as the 1880s. And Marilyn wouldn’t have been quite so alluring in a pair of pumps. As for who designed the shoe, it seems as though no specific designer can take the credit. It is rumoured the great painter and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci may have dreamt it up. However, it is more likely the shoes you know and love today were influenced by the designer Roger Vivier, born in France in 1913 and who sculpted shoes for Ava Gardner, Christian Dior and the Queen. The Beatles hysteria of the Sixties saw the stiletto fade away on the high street as other styles, like wedges and Chelsea boots became popular. But then along came the don of stilettos, Mr Manolo Blahnik (pictured). In 1972 Ossie Clark, the great British designer who typified Sixties prints, asked Blahnik to design shoes for his runway show. The shoes he created were works of art, rich green leather straps winding up the model’s legs topped with red flowers. Fast forward to the Nineties and Blahnik’s shoes penetrated the mainstream when Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw screamed at a mugger: “You can take my Fendi Baguette; you can take my ring and my watch, but please, don’t take my Manolo Blahnik’s!” Blahnik’s shoes, often a wear-all-day height, are a perfect example of Eighties power dressing, unlike today’s stilettos which can only be classed as a feat of architecture at times, such as Alexander McQueen’s armadillo shoes Despite the health warnings against balancing all your weight on a metal spike less than half a centimetre in diameter, the stiletto is here to stay, even if that means walking home, sans sensible jacket, with your stilettos in your arms.