The term stiletto – an Italian word for a thin blade – originally referred to just a slender heel but came to identify a high-heeled shoe as a whole. It is the footwear of choice for real and aspiring femme fatales. Here we explain why the spiky-heeled shoe remains so alluring.
Could fashion’s obsession with being thin have led to the launch of the stiletto heel back in the early 1950s? The first-ever stiletto heel were designed to be very fine with a slight curve. It was all about the silhouette. The silhouette is really the first thing that speaks, and if we think of couture or sophistication or sexiness, it’s always all about the thinnest creations fitted to the body. So it is possible that the same idea of thinness was what probably brought about the stiletto.
New materials and techniques invented for aircraft systems during the second World War, such as aluminum and the process of fusing plastic with metal, paved the way
for the development of the world’s thinnest heel. One can compare the engineering feat of the stiletto heel, fitted with a thin metal “needle” of solid steel measuring a minimum of 5mm in diameter, to the foundations of a building. The ideal proportions for a stiletto, now thegeneric name for a shoe with a stiletto heel, are around 8-8.5cm (3.2-3.4in) with a very thin sole.
Though the Oxford English Dictionary attributes the first mention of the so-called stiletto heel, named after an Italian knife with a short dagger and tapering blade, to an article that ran in Valparaiso, Indiana’s Vidette- Messenger newspaper on 20 April, 1931, with sketches of fetishist stilettos said to have been traced as far back as the 19th Century, the style really took flight in the 1950s. Manolo Blahnik reignited the flame in 1974 with his version of the slim- heeled, pointy toed shoe – dubbed ‘the needle’ .The shoes’ popularity was to endure. Pushing the stiletto to new heights, Paris-based shoe designer Christian Louboutin, with his iconic trademarked red soles, has fuelled the stiletto’s erotic, fetishist associations.
In the past, women would only wear their stilettos at night and use a shorter heel during the day, but the recent fixation for skyscraper stiletto heels by celebrities whatever the occasion has led to them being adopted by women for everyday wear.
Needle and the damage done
Sometimes a good thing could actually be very bad. This is one of those times. The side effects of wearing stilettos range from lateral ankle sprain to arthritis and fractured metatarsals. Heels over 3in put almost seven times the pressure on the ball of the foot as flat-soled styles, which is reportedly higher than the pressure on an elephant’s foot. With this in mind, a number of classes have sprouted catering to the
art of walking in stilettos, teaching students how to elegantly negotiate uneven pavements and subway grates.
Although nowadays when people look at a thinner heel, they ask, ‘Is it practical, can I walk with it, will it
break?’ The important thing is driving sexiness in people’s minds.More than half a century since its launch, it appears legions of women the world over are still willing to suffer for their stilettos, even going to the extreme of injecting cushioning under the balls of the feet.
Despite and in spite, with its pure lines, perfect proportions and sharp silhouette, the stiletto packs a punch in terms of aesthetics – a shoe as sculpture. But it’s also the lofty footwear’s posture-altering ability that continues to magnetize fans, forcing the wearer, who is placed in a tiptoe position, to thrust their chest forward and arch their back for balance, while seductively curving the foot and giving the illusion of a longer leg. Fans will claim that stilettos, more than any other shoe style, make them feel confident, sexy and glamorous. Or, to quote expert stiletto-wearer Marilyn Monroe: “Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.”