Sustainable Fashion

Why Do Shoes Have Heels? These 4 Reasons May Surprise You!

Are we just suffering for the sake of fashion, or do heels on shoes have a purpose? Let's find out!

Why Do Shoes Have Heels Featured

Loved by some, loathed by others – but why do shoes have heels? And are we just suffering for the sake of fashion? It turns out high heels were originally invented for a more practical reason… 

The use of heels on shoes originated with horse riding; heeled shoes helped prevent the rider’s foot from slipping out of the stirrup. Nowadays, high heeled shoes are linked with fashion, though even running shoes have a small heel; the heel helps protect the shoe from wear. 

Woman wearing skinny bright red shoes on a cobbled street
Not a horse in sight!

Been riding recently? Probably not – but I bet your shoe has a heel. When most people think of wearing heeled shoes they think of high heels, but actually almost every shoe and boot has a heel, which can be either attached or molded as part of the shoe. This applies to men’s shoes as well as women’s shoes. Why is this? Let’s dig a little deeper:

4 Reasons Shoes Have Heels – Is It Just a Fashion Thing?

Yes… and no. Let’s see:

Reason 1: Heels Are Fashionable

Yes, wearing high heeled shoes is fashionable for women (and has also been for men, at various times in history). In most cultures, the appearance of longer legs is considered attractive, and high heels are often also associated with higher status and wealth.

Fancy red designer heels featuring a floral pattern
Comfortable? Doubt it – but they sure look good!

Wearing high heeled shoes has other physical affects as well – they lift your butt, make your calf muscles appear more defined, and enable a walking style that is considered more attractive than with a flat foot. And of course, when you look good, you also feel good; many people wear heels because they help increase their self-confidence.

Reason 2: Heels Make Us Taller

Who wouldn’t want to be just that little bit taller? High heel shoes (and even those with just slightly elevated heels) give us a psychological boost by lifting us up just a little bit higher. Research has also shown that taller people may be paid more, are seen as more confident, and are more successful in their careers! Who wouldn’t want all these benefits from wearing shoes?

Woman wearing heels standing next to a tall man with the Eiffel tower in the background
Who doesn’t like the feeling of being just a little taller?

Reason 3: Heels Help Protect Shoes From Wear

You may not be wearing high heels, but unless you’re wearing barefoot shoes, the chances are your shoes have a heel and offer some kind of heel lift. The reason for this is because when we walk (or run), our body’s weight lands first on the heel, and this is the area that experiences the greatest wear. To counter this, the heel on most shoes is made to absorb this energy and to protect the rest of your shoe from wear.

Reason 4: A Low Heel Can Alleviate Some Foot Pain

Although many associate wearing heels with foot pain, there are some circumstances where a moderate heel can actually help relieve pain. A small heel to toe drop (created by a heel) in combination with arch support can help distribute your weight across your foot instead of putting it all in one place. This can relieve pain from plantar fasciitis, flat feet, and even arthritis.

It should be noted that this benefit refers to small heels used as part of a shoe designed to be supportive. A high heel is more likely to cause plantar fasciitis than to relieve it!

What About Running Shoes – Why Do They Have an Elevated Heel?

Conventional running shoes often have an elevated heel to help provide cushioning when you heel strike (land on your heel), which is common when running. This also has the effect of shortening the Achilles tendon and the calf muscles.

Person in running shoes running on sand
Even running shoes have small heels

However, greater heel height has been linked to Achilles tendonitis and other Achilles injuries, and many experts are now recommending a more balanced heel that can absorb shock without increasing injury risk.

Why Do Men’s Shoes Have Heels?

While men are less likely to wear shoes with high heels for fashion purposes (let’s hear it for all the fans of Cuban heels!), they still benefit from the psychological boost of the increased height. And of course, there’s always the protective benefit of the heel for the shoe itself, which ensures are shoes and boots last longer.

Avatar photo

James Evans

James is a copywriter based in the UK. He writes on sustainability, finance, tech, and anything else that interests him. He likes tea.