An Illustrated History Of The Platform Shoe

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Before the ugly-shoe flatform came the Spice Girls. And before them, disco. And before disco was Salvatore Ferragamo. And before him? About 2,000 years of people always wanting to be a little taller than they actually are. The history of the platform shoe is long and storied...and it hasn't always been about fashion. The sky-high shoe assisted royals in dodging Medieval muck, gave Greek thespians a much-needed boost on stage, and was actually outlawed at a certain point (in 1670, British Parliament outlawed many accoutrements for married women, including makeup, artificial teeth, false hair, bolstered hips, and platform shoes as punishable by death) . Take a little trip with us as we walk (and hobble) through all the forms the platform shoe has taken on. Trust — you might actually want to hold onto your retired Litas — you've got yourself a piece of history right there.
This story was originally published on May 12, 2012.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
220 B.C.
Greek actors used to wear leather sandals with cork platforms called the Cothurnus. As tall as six inches, the Cothurnus' height was dictated by how important the actor was; the more central the protagonist, the taller the shoe, and the easier he was to see!
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
1300s
In the Middle East, wooden stilts were decorated with shell and ivory and worn in public bathhouses to protect against the heated and wet floors. When people walked in them, the platforms made a clapping sound, so they were referred to as "kabkabs."
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
The Patten
During the Middle Ages, both nobility and peasantry alike wore elevated, wooden "pattens" outdoors, to keep them elevated above all the muck on the street. And, being the middle ages, you can imagine just how nasty the streets were at the time...we probably would have worn stilts any time we were leaving the house.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
1400s
Pattens eventually became more and more elaborate, culminating in the chopine, which was an over-shoe worn by Italian nobility. They reached such extravagant limits (some were nearly 30-inches tall and designed with jewels) that women needed walking sticks in order to get around. In 1547, Catherine de Medici wore chopines to give her 4'11" frame a boost, and started the trend among French nobility.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
1700s — When the Peking Opera became popularized in China in the 1700s, male actors would wear silk platform boots. As in the case of the Greek thespians, the higher the sole, the more important the player... and the less likely they'd have to perform the acrobatic flips that lower players characters had to do.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
1930s
The first instance of the platform shoe returning in modern days in the West was Salvatore Ferragamo's fashion-forward cork sandal. The rainbow-colored heel is considered modern, even today!
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
1970s
Disco lovers in the '70s — both men and women — indulged in high-heeled platform sandals and shoes. Never ones to let others outshine them on the dance floor, some platform-lovers even adorned their pairs with live aquariums and light-up bulbs.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
1990s
The platform shoe made a comeback in the '90s. First hitting the runway at a Vivienne Westwood shoe (remember when Naomi Campbell face-planted in her 9-inch heels?), they became popularized by international girl group sensation, the Spice Girls. Platform sneakers became a go-to, and also responsible for more than a few sprained ankles in gym classes.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
2010s
With the ugly shoe trend of the early 2010s came with it the flatform: the flat sandal or oxford featuring a thick platform sole that lacked any discernible incline. Stable and sporty (but still able to give you a vertical boost), flatforms were a shoe that divided fashion people. Either you loved them or you loathed them — but you couldn't get away from their ubiquity.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Today
Despite the popularity of the single-sole pump most women today own some version of a platform pump. Whether you were part of the Alexander McQueen alien shoe craze, have got a classic YSL Tribute, or are investing in Charlotte Olympia's fresh-feeling stacked pump , the platform shoe has become a real fashion staple for modern women.
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