A stiletto heel is a long, thin, high heel found on some boots and shoes, usually for
women. It is named after the stiletto dagger, the phrase being first recorded in the early 1930s.
Stiletto heels may vary in length from 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) to 25 cm (10 inches) or more if a
platform sole is used, and are sometimes defined as having a diameter at the ground of
less than 1 cm (slightly less than half an inch). Stiletto-style heels 5 cm or shorter are called
kitten heels. Not all high slim heels merit the description stiletto. The extremely slender
original Italian-style stiletto heels of the late 1950s and very early 1960s were no more
than 5mm in diameter for much of their length, although the heel sometimes
flared out a little at the top-piece (tip). After their demise in the mid-late 1960s,
such slender heels were difficult to find until recently due to changes in the way
heels were mass-produced. A real stiletto heel has a stem of solid steel or alloy. The
more usual method of mass-producing high shoe heels, i.e. moulded plastic with an
internal metal tube for reinforcement, does not
achieve the true stiletto shape.
Relatively thin high heels were certainly around in the late 19th
century, as numerous fetish drawings attest. Firm photographic
evidence exists in the form of photographs of Parisian singer Mistinguett
from the 1940s. These shoes were designed by Andre Perugia, who began
designing shoes in 1906. It seems unlikely that he invented the stiletto, but
he is probably the first firmly documented designer of the high, slim heel. The
word stiletto is derived from stylus, meaning a pin or stalk. Its usage in footwear
first appeared in print in the New Statesman magazine in 1959: “She came …forward,
her walk made lopsided by the absence of one heel of the stilettos”.
High heel shoes were worn by men and women courtiers. The design of the
stiletto heel originally came from the late Kristin S. Wagner but would
not become popular until the late 1950s. The stiletto heel came with the advent of
technology using a supporting metal shaft or stem embedded into the heel, instead
of wood or other, weaker materials that required a wide heel. This revival of the
opulent heel style can be attributed to the designer Roger Vivier and such designs
became very popular in the 1950s.
As time went on, stiletto heels became known more for their erotic
nature than for their ability to make height. Stiletto heels are a common
fetish item. As a fashion item, their popularity was changing over time.
After an initial wave of popularity in the 1950s, they reached their most refined
shape in the early 1960s, when the toes of the shoes which bore them became as
slender and elongated as the stiletto heels themselves. As a result of the overall sharpness
of outline, it was customary for women to refer to the whole shoe as a “stiletto”, not
just the heel, via synecdoche (pars pro toto). Although they officially faded from the
scene after the Beatle era began, their popularity continued at street level, and women
stubbornly refused to give them up even after they could no longer readily find them in
the mainstream shops.
A version of the stiletto heel was reintroduced as soon as 1974
by Manolo Blahnik, who dubbed his “new” heel the Needle. Similar heels were stocked at
the big Biba store in London, by Russell and Bromley and by smaller boutiques. Old,
unsold stocks of pointed-toe stilettos, and contemporary efforts to replicate
them (lacking the true stiletto heel because of changes in the way heels
were by then being mass-produced) were sold in street fashion markets
and became popular with punks, and with other fashion “tribes” of the
late 1970s until supplies of the inspirational original styles dwindled in
the early 1980s. Subsequently, round-toe shoes with slightly thicker
(sometimes cone-shaped) semi-stiletto heels, often very high in an attempt
to convey slenderness (the best example of this being the shoes sold in
London by Derber), were frequently worn at the office with
wide-shouldered power suits.
The style survived through much
of the 1980s but almost completely disappeared during the 1990s,
when professional and college-age women took to wearing shoes
with thick, block heels. However, the slender stiletto heel staged
a major comeback after 2000, when young women adopted
the style for dressing up office wear or adding a feminine
touch to casual wear, like jeans. Stiletto heels are particularly
associated with the image of the femme fatale. They are often
considered to be a seductive item of clothing, and often
feature in popular culture.
Stilettos give the optical illusion of a longer, slimmer leg, a smaller foot,
and a greater overall height. They also alter the wearer’s posture and gait,
flexing the calf muscles, and making the
bust and buttocks more
All high heels counter the natural functionality of the foot,
which can create skeleton/muscular problems if they are worn
excessively. Stiletto heels are no exception, but some people assume
that because they are thinner they must be worse for you. In fact, they are
safer to wear than the other extreme of high heel fashion, the platform shoe.
Despite their impracticality, their popularity remains undiminished – as Terry
DeHavilland (UK shoe designer) has said, “people say they’re bad for the
feet but they’re good for the mind. What’s more important?”
Stiletto heels concentrate a large amount of force into a small area.
The great pressure under such a heel (greater than that under the feet of an elephant.)
can cause damage to carpets and floors. The stiletto heel will also sink into soft
ground, making it impractical for
outdoor wear on grass.