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Men in High Heels – Persian Trend Setting

A men's 17th Century Persian shoe, covered in shagreen: horse-hide with pressed mustard seeds

Men’s C17th Persian shoe, made with shagreen: horse-hide and ground mustard seed

Every now and again BBC staff are allowed to write as if they worked for the Guardian, and the show The Why Factor is where it’s at. Here they chart of the rise and fall of the once prevalent fashion for men’s high heels, which it turns out, is owed to “a wave of interest in all things Persian” that passed through Western Europe. The wave started when Shah Abbas ordered the first diplomatic visit from Persia to Europe in 1599, spreading news of the current Persian style of the time through the courts they visited: Russia, Norway, Germany and Spain. Persian men wore high heels to help them with the stirrups while riding and at the end of the 16th Century, the Shah of Persia, Abbas I, had the largest cavalry in the world.


A Saluki dog with henna on ears, feet and tail

The Why Factor notes of the high heeled men’s shoes produced in Europe at the time, that “the heels and soles were always red“, but doesn’t link back to the very common practise for many centuries in the Persian Empire, of dying the palms and soles of the feet with red henna. Both in men, women their dogs and their kings.

“The earliest image of heeled footwear that I’ve ever seen so far is a depiction of a heeled boot worn by a horse-ride on a 9th century Persian ceramic bowl.” shoe expert Elizabeth Semmelhack author ofHeights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe.”