In its centuries-old history, the sky-high shoe has elevated, empowered, impeded and scandalized women. Though it had its origins in the chopines of 15th-century Venice, Italy, the geta of feudal Japan and ancient Greek theater, it is the past century where platforms — and the women who wore them — attained the most power.
The Great Depression may have plagued the decade, but it was also Hollywood’s golden era, and both the storylines and costumes had an over-the-top decadence to them. Ahead of the release of “The Wizard of Oz,” shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo created his instantly iconic rainbow platform for Judy Garland. Meanwhile, Mae West’s double-decker platforms (right) matched her larger-than-life persona.
The platform continued its run as a shoe for the performer, gracing the feet of screen sirens such as Veronica Lake and Rita Hayworth. Portuguese-Brazilian singer, dancer and actress Carmen Miranda loved the style so much for her Carnival-inspired shows that she created her own line of platform shoes, which she debuted in London in 1948.
When the heels hit Marilyn Monroe’s feet, the shoe ventured into pinup territory — and instantly gained more sex symbolism. The clear Lucite style that the actress favored for her swimwear cover shots read as a predecessor to today’s “stripper shoe.”
The swinging ’60s had aftershocks in the early ’70s, and London’s fashion scene happily embraced the style as a playful shoe for the freewheeling. Barbara Hulanicki’s iconic Biba store sold decadent platforms for the rock ’n’ roll jet-set crowd.
As the sexual revolution overlapped with the women’s liberation movement, the shoe came to symbolize the power of the decade’s twin cultural phenomena. Platforms could be found at protests and discos alike as women found more of their social freedoms.
Naomi Campbell was one of the decade’s supermodels, but she was still no match for Vivienne Westwood’s Super Elevated Gillie platforms in 1994. In 1997, fierce footwear and neofeminist “Girl Power” became instantly intertwined and influential for today’s millennials when the Spice Girls hit the scene.
Just before his death in 2010, Alexander McQueen debuted his Armadillo shoes for the spring ’10 season, iconic styles that Lady Gaga later bought at a Christie’s auction for $295,000. The wild style kicked off a platform revival, though the mass versions were deemed more party shoe than conceptual art.
Though they were rarely visible, Lady Gaga was seldom without her platforms during awards season, where she grabbed a Golden Globe, a Grammy and an Oscar. Her favorite pair?
A custom 7-inch lace-up boot by Giuseppe Zanotti in both black suede and silver.
Watch FN’s video below with Carrie Dragshaw on how to walk in heels.
Why the Platform Heel Will Be the Female Empowerment Shoe of the Fall
How Comfortable ‘Ugly’ Shoes Have Defined Women’s Empowerment Since the Days of ‘Working Girl’
See Lady Gaga’s Bold New Take on the Clear Shoe Trend