This is the second post in our series on Shoes and Gender.
What is the connection between shoes and gender? Or how does gender influence the men’s and women’s shoes ecosystem? We analyzed over 1.1 million products from the Indix Cloud Catalog to uncover some of the product data stories. Aside from shoe categories and color, heel height is the biggest differentiator between many men’s and women’s shoe styles. Not all shoes in our Cloud Catalog had heel height variables, but we looked at the ones that did. Table 1 shows the heel height statistics in inches.
Median heel height for women’s shoes (1.57”) is more than twice that of men’s (0.75”), and women’s heels have double the range between minimum and maximum listed heel height. While at first glance the men’s maximum heel height of 4” seems improbable, we verified that men’s shoes with heels of that height do exist. Also note that 8” isn’t an impossible heel height for women when the shoes have platforms.
While children’s shoes have shorter heel heights overall and both genders have 0” median heel heights, they do still have low heels and platforms. The average heel height of 0.53” for girls’ shoes is 61% higher than for boys’ (0.33”), and girls’ shoes have more than double the boys’ maximum heel height, as we see in Table 1.
Looking at the heel height distribution in Figure 1 above shows reasonably expected distributions. Children’s shoes cluster around 0” with a small cluster around 1”. Women’s shoes spike (pun intended) at 1” and have smaller spikes at 3” and 4”. Men’s shoes cluster around 0”, ½”, and 1”.
The data clearly shows that women have more and higher heel heights from which to choose. I found myself wondering, however, if we value height more in men than in women, and if men’s Achilles tendons are more fragile than women’s, why do more women wear heels than men? This is especially mystifying when high heels cause a laundry list of injuries and ailments, and the pain can start in just over an hour. (Note that I was probably wondering this after a day at my standing desk in my 4” platform heels.)
According to a researcher quoted in The Telegraph who conducted a study on high heels, high heels make women sway and take shorter steps, rendering them more attractive to both women and men. According to him, women subconsciously wear high heels to get that attention. Women also mention that high heels make them feel professional and polished. There are many articles like this one from eBay that list height, attention, confidence, and appearance as reasons to wear heels.
Women haven’t always been the primary gender to wear high heels, however. Wearing heels started in Persia as riding footwear for cavalry, and the male aristocracy of Europe adopted the fashion after a visit in 1599 from the first Persian diplomat. Heels were considered macho at the time, but a fashion craze in the 1630s that had women adopting men’s fashion migrated heels over to women. Other histories of the high heel say that Queen Elizabeth was the first to wear high heels as a symbol of power, but these histories agree that men and women both wore high heels throughout the 1600s.
Men stopped wearing high heels by the mid-1700s, and heels disappeared altogether during the French Revolution, where they were rejected as being a symbol of the ruling class. In the mid-1800s, heels came back with the women’s court shoe, which evolved into the “pump”. Photography helped with the resurgence of high heels, and women have been wearing high heels ever since (sometimes enforced by archaic dress codes). Somehow, they’ve never caught back on for men…
It doesn’t look like high heels will be going out of style anytime soon (barring a bloody revolution that might involve guillotines), but Figure 1 shows a decent density between no heel and 1” heels, so women have good choices that won’t cause pain and injury.
Want to learn more? Check out our Shoes and Gender report now!