The origins of the heel are clouded in history but the derivation of the word certainly originates from Hell. Whether this reflects the popular belief, heels on shoes evolved through fashion and degenerate taste is not clear. Three thousand years ago the royal families of Egypt wore high heels as a status symbol.
Catherine de Medici, hundreds of years later, was credited with introducing the fashion to Europe in the Middle Ages. The fad was in vogue for only a short period of time before it was considered passé. The reason for this was the style became ubiquitous and was considered debased. Popular with people of small stature and prostitutes, heels were soon passed over by the fashion cognoscenti.
Many believe heels became popular with horsemen because it allowed them to grip their riding stirrups. Gengus Khan's invading horsemen wore small red Cuban heels which became a fashion icon throughout Europe and remained fashionable with men's shoes up until the French Revolution.
Elevated heels were considered practical and allowed the wearer to rise above the mire. The fashion was poplar with men then later, women.
During the Dark Ages, crafts fell into abeyance and shoes became very expensive. It was common place to bequeath footwear to others. Hence the saying "following in your father's footsteps". Instead of buying new shoes the fashion was to have them repaired. One practical way was to replace the heel. The introduction of footwear for the masses coincided with mechanised production at the turn of the last century.
The most satisfactory explanation for heels seems to be related to walking itself. To wear a shoe longer than the foot necessitated either an ungainly bending of the knee or lifting the foot higher to give ground clearance. By raising the back of the foot the energy saved is considerable, and the end result is the forefoot is pitched forward onto the ball ready to lever the body forward. In the last two hundred years because armies needed to move quickly and efficiently the military shoe was designed as a walking machine. The army boot has a heel and angled toe section which matched. Careful calculations allow the shoe to rock over the ball of the foot. The higher the heel height the greater the toe spring. Rather unglamorous but very pragmatic.
Heels do of course have their sexy side and Aphrodite; the Goddess of Love was often depicted as wearing nothing but her high heeled sandals. Victorian pornography would almost certainly involve the model wearing very high heeled shoes. Because of the prudishness of the time woman's figures were covered up and the focus for men was on women's shoes. These often consisted of boots made from soft materials such as silk or delicate fabrics.
A closer look at What the Butler saw would reveal the semi-naked ladies were wearing high heeled shoes. The early Hollywood sirens often wore high heels which were bejewelled in the 20's and 30's. Who can forget Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis in their high heeled pumps in "Some like it hot" ?
Something a lot of people don't know is Marilyn was required to always wear high heeled shoes in the public eye, not just because they were considered sexy but more especially because the studio considered her small, tubby and talentless. On average the heel contact from a ten stone lady would be the equivalent of two tons per square inch or an elephant pirouetting.