From Gladiator Sandals to Armadillo Heels: Shoe Trends Throughout History

Ancient gladiator sandal

Ancient gladiator sandalI am a shoe person. I like colorful styles and heels and boots. But I also like comfort and ease and simplicity. I love the options we have, and it’s fun to look back at shoe trends over the years to see how far we’ve come. Styles and colors change, and classics remain classic. Still, there are a few standouts that make me tilt my head to the side and say, “what now?”

High Heels for Men?

For instance, did you know that for more than an entire century (from the late 16th to the 18th centuries) men wore high heels? To clarify, I don’t just mean tall boots. I am talking the real deal: high heels with frills and pointy toes. These shoes were fancy and downright feminine by today’s standards. Of course, somewhere along the line, practicality won out over high fashion due to wars and necessity. But you know, I kind of wish those dudes would have at least pulled the heels out for fancy dinners or lawn parties.

Because if there is one hardship I feel men and women should share, it’s walking on a lawn in high heels.

Of course, I shouldn’t just pick on the men. We ladies have our own set of historical issues. From foot binding to five-inch platforms to armadillo heels (yes that’s a thing), we have basically created the need for podiatry based on our fashion sense. It’s a wonder any of us stands upright. But trends are fun and by definition don’t stick around long, so we go with them until they fade. We tell ourselves that by the time they come back around we will be older and wiser and know better than to teeter around on something called an armadillo heel.

Gladiator Sandals Endure

Have you ever noticed how some trends come and go and then come back around again? It’s true, and it somehow keeps happening with gladiator sandals.

True story: As a teenager, I lived in the Middle East for a few months in the 90s. I wanted to shop and bring back all kinds of authentic souvenirs. I bought a necklace, some spices, a candle (very authentic) and a tunic. You know what else I bought? Gladiator sandals. They were handmade from genuine leather and stained to a deep milk chocolate brown. I even haggled with a street vendor to get them at a lower price. No one had seen gladiator sandals like these. I loved those sandals but for one thing — they squeaked.

For ten years I tried to force those shoes into submission. I hoped that eventually they would wear down into the perfectly authentic, no-one-has-these-but-me Middle Eastern sandals. Instead, they continued to squeak as loudly as the very first day each and every time I wore them until I eventually admitted defeat.

Women's gladiator ssandalBut as they say: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Who am I to scoff at gladiator sandals just because mine were louder than a wobbly shopping cart? I may have moved on to platforms, knee-high boots and nude heels, but there will always be a special place in my heart for sandals, no matter how strappy they are. I particularly like the pair on the right, which would be at home on the streets of ancient Rome or modern suburbia.

That brings me back to the men in heels. Could they not go to war and then come home to a nice brandy and a pair of pumps — sensible, yet stylish? I’m just saying, why throw the baby out with the bath water? If it means that much to you, get your heels on, bro! Fine, don’t wear them to war. But if I can make peace with the gladiator sandal, surely the guys can pony up for a four-inch heel at a wedding or a bar mitzvah.

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