Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Men’s Heels: The Stirrup, the Spur and the Boot? (Part 3)

Equitation styles began to change in the early modern period. A number of factors may have influenced this transformation; changes in warfare, the growth of the Gentry and changes to inland transportation. Various causes existed and are worthy of study, but whatever the root cause, modern riding styles emerged that incorporated a shorter stirrup strap.  Riders began to sit with the upper leg thrust slightly forward and with the lower leg bending at the knee.  This type of equitation allows the rider to use the pressure from the legs to help guide the horse. It also brings the foot and heel closer to the flank of the horse, which allows the early-modern spur to be shorter than its medieval equivalent.   However, the modern English heel is much flatter and almost inconsequential in comparison to the Western heel. 
Western boot and spur
As an aid in understanding the shift in heel and spurs, a remnant of that transition might be the style of the American Western heeled boot and the manner in which some cowboys wear their spurs. This style of placement has the spur resting on or near the top of the stacked heel, about 3 inches off the ground, which allows the spur to hit the flank of the horse closer to the underbelly with less arcing of the stirrup, leg and foot. Similar to the Western style, the spur for the English rider is placed on the boot several inches above the ground.

Charles I, 1631

Additional factors for the development of the stacked heel for men could include the changing role of horsemen outside of the military in the early modern world and the increased use of horsepower.  Even the most shallow heel allows spurs to be worn both on and off a horse.  The lift the heel provides allows a rider to walk without damaging the spur's leather and without digging into the sole of the foot with each step. A thick sole and stacked heel provide some elevation in a world of animal muck, and from a practical nature it is far more effective to replace a worn outer sole and a layer or two of a whole sole.  While not a primary cause, one of the easiest ways to increase stature in a hierarchical society is through a raised heel.  Another side effect of leather soles and heels is that they make sound as we walk. 

Lord John Stuart and his brother Lord Bernard Stuart, Van Dyck circa 1638
Heeled leather soled footwear announces a person’s approach before they ever enter a room and a boot creates more sound than a shoe. The sound shoes and boots make as a person walks is one of the very few approved ways to make noise through their clothing.  The development of a raised heel for men occurred during a period rife with personal wear and adornment no longer deemed appropriate for men; wigs, britches, lace, cockades, jabots, buckles, canes, swords are all anomalies to modern viewers. What we find odd might have been a more natural development in the 17th-18th centuries.  So while not to diminish the possible influence by the high heels of the Asiatic archers on Western male shoes, a far richer story might exist that incorporates a host of influences.

Henry, Prince of Wales with Robert Deveruex, 3rd Earl of Essex in the Hunting Fields, Robert Peake c.1605

1 comment:

  1. Commenting here too. Favourite play is Midsummer's Night Dream. I love those shoes & want to win them :)


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