One outcome of the spread of syphilis in the Middle Ages and the harsh laws that followed was an increase in private mistresses and exclusive high-class sex workers or courtesans. Common both in occidental and oriental society there were different levels of bordellos. In China there were brothels for the underclass, amid ranked brothels for soldiers only, and high-class brothels restricted to merchants, artisans and high officials. Top of the range bordellos not only offered sex for sale but gentlemen were entertained with fine music, dancing, conversation and erotic titillation.
By the 18th century these bawdy houses were much in evidence across European cities with Paris the Mecca. A large number of prostitutes and libertines were deported to Louisiana under French Monarchy, hence the concept of high-class brothels spread to New Orleans.
During La Belle Époque prostitution was raised to an art form and prominent Le Demi Monde became as popular as film stars are today. A rising middle class bade for more entertainment and as the authors of the new science, sexology have confirmed, fetishism was liberally catered for in the palaces of pleasure.
In China, foot sex was considered the highest form of sexual indulgence. Londoners in the 18th century were so libidinous it was estimated to have twice the number of sex workers than Paris. The practice of deporting criminals to Australia meant the famous knocking shops of Melbourne were packed with sex workers from London.
The business of owning and leasing brothels was lucrative, with many under the personal management of persons of high birth and prosperity. Pleasure palaces were furnished with the best furniture, featured cabaret entertainment and extravagant theme rooms including seraglio (Turkish purdah rooms), and spanking rooms. The illustrious clientele included many crown heads, celebrated artisans and well-known personalities of the time. A frequent visitor to the top brothel in Paris was the famous pedal lover, Casanova.
Guidebooks were published for the more discerning client and in London, the List of Sporting Ladies appeared (1770); in New Orleans, the Blue Book consisted of forty pages of personal promotion pages from each of the madams.
The details the services of over two hundred Paris ladies of the night was published as The Pretty Women of Paris (1883) and has become a classic of erotic literature.
Suede shoes were the preferred footwear of the lounge lizards after the wars and the term Brothel Creeper passed into the common lexicon. The delinquents liked the style and made suede shoes (loafers in the US and wedged shoes on the UK), their own in the 50s when Carl Perkins wrote the song Blue Suede Shoes which Elvis made his own. But that is another story.