Now & Then: The History of Platform Shoes

They’re easy to walk in, make you feel taller and add a funky soul era edge to any outfit – which is why platforms will always keep coming back. 

The platform shoe trend is showing some serious staying power since its most recent reemergence on the fashion scene starting in 2007. Instead of being given its walking papers for next season, ever blockier footwear was spotted on the Fall 2012 runways of Proenza Schouler, Rodarte, Balenciaga and Miu Miu suggesting the sky’s the limit for the future of this trend.

Chopines from 15th Century Venice

The origins of the platform can be traced back to 15th and 16th centuries when both courtesans and patrician women would wear wood or cork overshoes that at 20 inches high, protected both their shoes and dresses from mud and street soil. Called Chopines, they were covered in leather, brocades and jewel covered velvets that often matched the wearer’s dress. Besides their practical uses, the height of the Chopine became a symbolic reference to the cultural and social standing of the wearer; the higher the shoe, the higher the status of the wearer. However, the modern platform – as we know it today – has its roots firmly placed in the emergence of the (Look At) “Me Generation” and 70s disco culture.

“You have a much better life if you wear impressive clothes.” -Vivienne Westwood

Platforms have been worn by everyone from Elton John to Lady Gaga, Former Spice Girl, Victoria Beckham and Stevie Nicks. They were a key accessory for Glam Rock men, worn by Motley Crew, Marc Bolan, Alice Cooper and KISS. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, famously re-introduced the high heeled platform shoe into high-fashion in the early 1990s. It was while wearing a pair of Super Elevated Gillie’s with five inch platforms and nine inch heels that the super model, Naomi Campbell, fell on the catwalk at a fashion show.

Celine’s much copied Spring 2010 collection of wood-heeled sandals-cum-clogs

Today’s platforms are worn for both function and style. The footwear of choice for those seeking added height and leg lengthening in enduring skinny jeans styles, the weight of the shoe balances a delicate outfit and adds just the right amount of yesteryear gravitas when worn with vintage-inspired pieces.

Despite deploring the ubiquitousness of the dominatrix style hybrid of platform and stiletto pump in her recent On the Runway blog, Cathy Horyn, the fashion critic of the New York Times agreed that this shoe style isn’t going anywhere soon, declaring, “Women love platform shoes.”

Bianca Jagger’s Dancing shoes. Fashionable platform shoes first appeared in the 1930s and 1940s, but reached their greatest popularity during the 1970s. They were revived for the nineties club scene, the Goths, and now look set to stay as part of high fashion style.

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Top Image: Mui Mui’s Fall 2012 Platform Boots


Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.