High heels: a history traced, and a debate raised.

Author: Aliwyn Cole.

One typical day in London, when I was rushing up the stairs to catch my train at Earl’s Court, I was suddenly prevented from making my hurried way by a woman, hobbling and staggering in a winding path in front of me.  She wasn’t drunk, nor was she old, nor did she have any physical ailments; she was only physically challenged in the fact that she was wearing a pair of stilettos which she clearly could not walk in.  To be honest, I was really quite annoyed by this situation: not only had I missed my train and so had to wait another 10 minutes, but I was also frustrated by the fact that despite all our feminist movements and fights for equality, women continue to hobble and restrict themselves in uncomfortable and impractical footwear.  


Now maybe you think that I am being unfair in my feelings of infuriation at this situation, and I apologise if I am offending many women here who like to wear heels.  Indeed, I have some female, and perhaps even male, friends who walk very well in high heels, and I admire them very much for that.  Personally speaking, I prefer trainers and flat shoes simply because I find them more comfortable.  Due to a family trait from my father’s side of the family, I have inherited skinny ankles and also skinny bad feet.  When I say ‘bad’, what I mean is that my feet do what they are there to do, but need to be comfortable in order to function and carry the weight of my body around while completing my everyday errands of survival in this hustling and bustling modern world.  Yes, I have worn heels in the past, but now I have realised that my health and freedom are my priorities, and heels just do not allow me to do what I need to do every day in order to live my life comfortably and efficiently.  

But this is the point I want to put forward: whether we wear heels or not should be a matter of personal choice.  If someone feels better wearing shoes which make them taller, more elegant, more powerful, and so on, and they can walk in them without any discomfort, then that is a matter that only each individual can decide for themselves.  But by personal choice I really do mean pure, unadulterated, uninfluenced, and utterly honest, personal choice and preference.  I am not so sure that many women are not making decisions as to what they wear as a result of both conscious and subconscious pressures and influences of society, media, boyfriends, and images of perceived sexual attractiveness.  If I am completely straight with myself, I wore heels in the past because I felt that it was necessary to do so in order to be attractive and stand out from the crowd of beautiful women; I was younger and more susceptible to influences of what is perceived as attractive or respectable, and so was I really making a choice based on what I myself truly wanted or felt?   

Indeed, personal choice was not an option for Nicola Thorpe one day in December 2015, when she arrived for work as a receptionist for the finance firm PwC wearing a smart, flat pair of shoes, only to be informed that she was required to wear heels of between 2 and 4 inches.  Now her reply was the same as my feisty retort would have been, as to if men would be expected to do the same.  Of course, she was laughed at in reply, but wasn’t the point she made a valid one?  Employed as a temp by the firm Portico, she was informed that she had signed a contract stating that she must adhere to the dress code, which included wearing heels.  So by not wearing heels, she had breached the contract and, as a result, she was sent home without pay.


Thankfully, Ms Thorpe had the guts to take this further, and created a petition against recruiters forcing women to wear high heels in the work place in order to keep their jobs.  I myself signed this petition, not only because the fact that this is happening in the 21st century makes me extremely angry, but also because I know how I would have felt if this had been me.  Like so many people at present who are signed on zero hours contracts and therefore have no choice but to accept the rules of their employer due to poverty and desperately having to work, I would have felt extremely anxious and at the same time furious.  I have rent and bills to pay but am at a stage in my financial security where I am probably 2 months away from being homeless if I lost my job.  So the reality is that I would have no choice if required, but to stomp around all day like a blue-arsed fly in order to get things done under some bossy manager’s orders, on a pair of points as if doing a balancing trick for a circus of prize prances.  Not only is this mental stress but also physical stress.  

Nicole Thorpe was obliged to wear heels between 2 and 4 inches for her job.

Described as “baffling” by The Equality and Human Rights Commission, this kind of dress code remains a reality for many female members of the workforce, whether against the law or not.  In fact, the aforementioned petition against companies being allowed to force women to wear high heels in the workplace received 152,420 signatures, and was debated in Parliament on the 6th of March 2017.  As a result, a law was passed which now prevents employers from forcing female employees to wear high heels as a requirement of a job.  But is this law always enforced, and can all employers be effectively regulated?  It would seem that the classification of female employees as sexualised members of a team continues, as was revealed on the 7th of February 2018, by the Daily Mail:

“Women hosting stalls at the world’s biggest gambling conference are being told to wear ‘nothing more than swimsuits’ to attract customers while their male colleagues dress in suits.”

So when did high heels become an image and statement of power, respectability, and sexuality? 

 “I do everything the man does, only backwards and in high heels!”  Ginger Rogers.

Perhaps the social expectation that an attractive woman should wear heels started with the film industry and screen images.  Artistically, it is common knowledge that heels give the visual illusion of a lengthened leg and a taller, thinner frame, thereby counteracting the effects of the photographic image which can shorten, fatten, and make the human figure appear box-like.  But this comes back down to women being judged according to what they look like. So, I am expected to do everything that a man does, but in uncomfortable clothes because I must also look attractive?  


How many of us have felt the excruciating pain of our feet rammed into pointy toes while walking and dancing on the raised balls of our feet.  Or if we simply haven’t been able to walk on raised points, then felt less attractive as a result and wished that we could.  Even more annoying, how many of us have been told by a man that we should wear heels.  I would like to think that there is more to a woman than just looking attractive.  But of course, as is in a woman’s nature, I do strive to look my best: I wear make-up, I worry about my hair, and I look at fashion magazines.  However, I do think there are so many more options than just wearing high heels which makes a woman attractive.  Being considered attractive should not require enduring pain and potentially damaging effects to health, as a result of wearing uncomfortable clothing and footwear.

First of all, perhaps we should remind employers of the extensive list of health and safety regulations, and the rather lethal combination of impractical footwear and the walkways and floors of their business and work premises.  Any competent and responsible business owner must surely know about the risks of combining wet, slippery floors with precarious heels and soles of shoes badly designed for the environment.  Let’s be frank and state that this potentially creates a “risk of death” situation.  I have often noticed this myself when walking along the pavements of so many cities, and, in particular, the tube platform in London.

Now let’s also examine how high heels can affect the physical frame of the human body.  By pushing your feet into a position of walking on the toes with the ball of the foot raised, you are throwing the alignment of your spine off-kilter.  Over time, this can create back problems.  We are also putting our hips at risk as well, which is a major health problem for so many women.  Not only this, but many high heels available on the high street are narrow at the toe, and so the toes are crammed into a shape which surely must affect blood circulation, which in turn affects the skin, manifesting in blisters, corns and calluses.  Is this not similar to the ancient Japanese practice of foot-binding?  The list of health afflictions from wearing uncomfortable shoes goes on and on.  

These health issues have, in fact, been examined and confirmed by osteopathic research and studies.  Dr Surve is the co-director of the Texas Centre for Performing Arts Health, as well as an associate professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Centre of Osteopathic medicine.  He helps dancers and other frequent heel wearers treat and counteract the head-to-toe toll of wearing high heels.  According to Dr Surve:

“From an osteopathic perspective, we’re looking for the body to be centred from head to toe. High heels put the foot at an angle and pull muscles and joints out of alignment, so the effects aren’t limited to the feet … It’s not unusual for people who spend lots of time in high heels to have low back, neck and shoulder pain because the shoes disrupt the natural form of the body.”

Structurally, the plantar fascia in the foot is connected to the calf muscle, which in turn connects to the hamstring. The hamstrings attach to the pelvis and low back, which is why wearing high heels can make your back ache along with your feet. Furthermore, walking on the balls of your feet will shift your centre of gravity forward, forcing you to arch your back when you stand and further contributing to back pain.  Therefore, sciatica is an extremely real and common physical ailment which results from wearing heels, as confirmed by Carrie Bowler, an osteopathic physician for One Medical Group, on 19th January 2012:

“Over time, wearing high heels can shorten the muscles in your calves and lower back, leading to pain and muscle spasms. An overarched back can cause a forward head posture, which strains neck muscles. … It’s not uncommon for heel-loving women to experience sciatica” 

At least Prince was prepared to wear heels himself, which is what I now say to any man who dares to suggest that I cripple myself in order to fulfil his sexual fantasies. When we examine the reasons behind his death in 2016, we can read that he was reputedly taking the opioid Fentanyl in order to numb the severe hip pain he had as a result of dancing and jumping off speakers in heels.  Now of course this is a bit extreme, but so is walking and standing around all day long, day after day, during the office commute, at work, or on a night out.  


 “I don’t know who invented the high heel, but women owe him a lot.”  Marilyn Monroe.

When examining the origin and evolution of heeled shoes throughout history, we find that men may have worn heels, and for similar reasons as Prince and many more of us: height, power, perhaps self-esteem.  

There are a number of theories as to the first use and reasons for the birth of a high heel on footwear, with function being the original reason.  The most common belief is that heels originated for the practical purpose of horse riding.  Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator at Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum, traces the high heel to Persian horse riders in the Near East who used such footwear for functionality, because they helped hold the rider’s foot in stirrups. She states that this footwear is depicted on a 9th-century ceramic bowl from Persia.

Other reports traces heels even further back to ancient Egypt in the second millennium B.C., when supposedly butchers wore high heels for the practical purpose of keeping their feet clear of blood while slaughtering animals.  In a similar context, I once heard that the French had created heels in Versailles; apparently, it was the upper classes who wore extravagant heels in order to raise their feet above the ground which had been used as a toilet area in the absence of toilet facilities within.  This seems to link with the theory that perfume was also invented by the French to hide the smell. 

In reference to Versailles, perhaps one of the most famous examples of a man wearing heels in history is set by King Louis XIV, who was the king of France between 14th May 1643 and 1st September 1715.  The king set the rule that only the upper classes could wear heels, and he himself wore high heels decorated with battle scenes.  Indeed, the European Renaissance was the time when power dressing was originally born. So it would seem that the wearing of high heels socially originated as a status symbol instead of as a sex symbol, although some would argue that this could be the same thing. 

Status was certainly the reason behind why Catherine De Medici (13th April 1519-5th January 1589), an Italian noblewoman, wore heels for her wedding to the French King Henry II.  As she and Mary I of England believed, wearing heels made them appear taller and larger than life, which has often been cited as the main reason for wearing heels by many of my female friends, who feel unhappy with their height.  I would hazard a guess that this continued to be the reason behind women’s shoes being raised on a heel for the centuries which followed, especially in consideration of the fact that perspectives on female modesty and therefore not showing any leg, would have rendered wearing heels for the purpose of making the legs appear long and slender and so noticeable, rather useless.  Indeed, I was recently informed by a friend from South Korea that some Korean men wear raised shoes if they are shorter than average height.  So there is clearly a natural human desire for us to want to be taller.  As is so often the case, the human being has a desire to be different to who or what we are, especially physically.   

Are heels really such a statement of sexuality, or in fact a statement of vulnerability?  In my opinion, it is time for a change of outlook by both genders.   Isn’t it attractive to see a person who can move freely and comfortably?   Isn’t it reassuring to know that your girlfriend or wife could run in the event of an emergency?  The best synopsis of high heels which I have ever heard was surprisingly from the lips of a man, in the case of the lead character from the American series The Finder 

“These shoes might as well be chains.

I mean, you charge a woman $1,000 for something that subjugates her to men.

Well, she can’t run in them, can she? You know, let me tell you something.

Those shoes are designed to position her glute in a way which, amongst the primates, suggests that she is in heat.

These are the same impulses that make fashion photographers photograph women lying on the ground or slumped to take away their dignity and their power.

Sisters arise and resist!”

This statement from a man is both refreshing and sexy.  Finally, someone of the male gender who understands and speaks up for sexy comfort, movement, and doesn’t expect beauty to be presented on spikes.  

So, ladies (and gentlemen), wear what you want to wear, but only if you can actually wear it well and not become weak and unable to move.  And wear what you want to wear, but do not expect and demand others to hobble in your footsteps.

For further reading: 






The new book “Shoes: An Illustrated History” by Rebecca Shawcross (Bloomsbury)









Traditional way for Communities to Self-Organise

Kopa or Veche Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veche ) is a set of traditions that describe the natural social structure of the Rusians. Kopa Law is unwritten and passed from mouth to mouth, so there are only a few people left who learned it from their ancestors.

The meaning of the word Kopa is en masse, together. Previously, in Rusia people who lived in settlements (up to nine settlements) gathered regularly in one place, the administration centre from where they controlled their lives. Kopa mature men gathered from all nine villages or settlements for a Kopa (Veche) meeting.

A Kopa man is a leader of his household.  He is chosen as a mature man (50+ years) who is native by birth to the area he represents. He must have a grandson from his son (not from a daughter) to carry his family name. The man must be a head of the clan (the head of his family, his children and his grandchildren and their families), “rodan” in Rusian. “Rodan” this was the Kopa mature man, and all the rest were under him/report to him: brothers, sisters, women, and so on. A mature man must have his own household and provide for himself completely autonomously and independently, be a strong master.

Below are the details of how the Veche gathering is formed. Everyone gathered at the Kopa meeting and were split into smaller groups, because it is impossible for many (for example, three hundred) people to discuss one issue. Kopa men were divided into groups. First the representative of ten is voted for by ten men. “Desyatsky” is a person who is a representative of ten neighbouring families or households, who was trusted to represent the interests of the other nine. Earlier our ancestors knew that only ten percent had the ability to perceive information from the highest spiritual or information spheres. Therefore, ten people gathered – they chose a representative, then these ten representatives gathered – they chose a representative of a hundred households – “sotnik”, then ten “sotnik” gathered – they chose a representative of a thousand households – “tysiachnik”. When ten of “tysiachnik” gathered, they chose a “temnik” or a representative of ten thousand.

Here are the best, for example, ten-thousanders or representatives of ten thousand households who were entrusted with management, solved all issues related to life. The representatives chosen by the Veche (of 100 and of 1000 households) could coordinate life matters themselves, and, if necessary, created and filled administrative structures such as economic administration, internal law enforcement, external relations, etc. The administrators chosen by the Kopa Men held their place as long as they were approved, and not for a fixed term. Starting with the representatives of 100 households, people involved in coordination didn’t work themselves (those who did not plough their own bread, but received support from the community because there was no longer enough time for their household duties). Thus, there were two structures balancing each other — elected managers and appointed managers. When the appointed branch of government made a decision regarding people, it was obliged to obtain permission from the elected authorities. This was how the control over decisions took place. It turned out, for example, that the regional administrator (appointed authority) did not have the right to give an order or bring someone to trial without the consent of the representatives of ten thousand households (elected authorities). The city or the governor (the appointed authority) did not have the right to also judge by the court or do something if the representative of thousands of households did not give his consent. It was impossible to arrest a person in the village if the representative of a hundred households in this village did not give consent.

There are memories of how grandfathers gathered on the Cossack Circle, especially in 1933, then in 1937. They discussed issues and repressions that took place at that time. The last remnants of Veche Law existed in the 1930s in Rusia in the Cossack Circles. The Cossacks were the last who remembered what a Veche Law was about. It was a military class that was still capable of self-organisation.

Kopa was a vital university where everyone studied. After 31 years, a husband with a family was required to attend the Veche Meeting as a householder, but not having the right to vote. And until the age of 50, he studied Veche Law, gained experience, and just listened. He watched how the Veche works, how Kopa mature men consider matters, for example, in solving economic and defence issues, issues of internal law and order, how the elders decided on things, and how disputes were resolved. Veche also was running courts executing justice.

All the decisions that were made were never violated. Therefore, one of the principles of Veche Law was the principle: what the elders decided, the younger ones would stand on.

There was complete silence at the Veche meetings. Only the words of a speaker, sometimes of a very worried person, were heard, since the person spoke out of his heart (as they could be executed/killed). The person was completely liberated to speak his/her mind. The man is speaking while other men are listening to him, tuning in to this single wave. There were no discussions. That is, one spoke out, then the other. There was nothing like we have today — how politicians interrupt each other. There was no such thing. In the Cossack circle, it’s simple: these Yesaul (military leaders) observed everything. If someone violated the principles of the circle, immediately punishment followed. This take-off, this collective mind has always provided a solution to many issues that one person simply will not come to, whoever he may be.

Mutual responsibility was established in the assemblage, where the whole community was responsible for the misconduct of any of its members (“from small to large”).

At the Kopa gathering, forgiveness of the offender was encouraged, as well as sincere nationwide repentance of the offender. Judicial cases were dealt with according to Conscience, trying to persuade the disputants to reconcile.

Everyone, who bumped into a violation of the Veche Law or customs, was obliged to make every effort to stop this violation. Otherwise, he became an accomplice to the crime he was a witness of, and bore full responsibility along with the offender. If someone saw that some kind of violation was being committed, he was obliged to either stop it himself or call someone. If he did not do either of these two actions, then he was subject to punishment in the same way as the offender.

Direct Rule of the people — power, organised according to the principles of Veche/Kopa Law, solved the following tasks:

1) Prevention of law violation in modern language. The entire Community was entrusted with the responsibility of preventing wrongdoing.

2) Search and prosecution of criminals, that is, the execution of the court.

3) Ensuring the safety of life, property of community members and strangers, that is, non-community members also.

4) Organization of economic activity, production, and trade.

5) Organization of external defence against enemies and election of military leaders.

6) Collecting taxes for public needs and maintaining management structures.

7) Organization of cultural life and education.

Zemstvo is a territorial aggregate of urban and Kopa structures.

Zemstvo put together several local Kopa meetings from several villages or settlements.

The Zemstvo principle has always existed in traditional society. This was a way of self-government by the people, a way of organising rule on the ground, on the lands on which people lived, so that certain groups of people, nations, ethnicities, kins, clans, could manage their group in accordance with their traditions and culture.

Zemstvo was a school for the education, training, and development of administrators. This was their main task, the development of a varna/class (caste in Hindu culture) of administrators who would have to meet certain requirements.