Despite the rapid progress gender-bending (and gender-neutral) dressing has made, one of the fashion industry's most "traditional" accessories is still the heel. Heels have been marketed exclusively to women — in the mainstream, at least — for centuries. Although heels have crossed the gender binary a handful of times, what men in heels look like today is not the same picture as, ahem, 400 years ago.
To kick off its 20th anniversary, the Bata Shoe Museum of Toronto is presenting Standing Tall: The Curious History Of Men In Heels: a full-blown — and utterly fascinating — history of men in heels. The exhibit features heels of all heights worn by rockstars, soldiers, and cowboys from different cultures and just about every corner of the world. If you can wrap your head around it, men have been wearing heels since the 1600s as a symbol of masculinity.
The exhibition asks a profound question: Why don't mean wear heels now? It's a provocative thought, because the cultural turning point in fashion where men in heels became unacceptable remains undocumented.
“When heels were introduced into fashion at the turn of the 17th century, men were the first to adopt them and they continued wearing heels as expressions of power and prestige for over 130 years,” Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator at the museum, explained. “Even after they fell from men’s fashion in the 1730s, there were pockets of time when heels were reintegrated into the male wardrobe, not as a way of challenging masculinity, but rather as a means of proclaiming it."
Click through the slideshow ahead to see everything from heeled boots worn by warriors on the 17th century frontier, John Lennon's original Chelsea boot, and Elton John's '70s platforms. If you catch yourself in Canada anytime soon, you can see the shoes IRL at Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum until May 2016.