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Platform shoes (also known as disco boots, triangle heels, or simply platforms) are shoes, boots, or sandals with thick soles. They are often made of cork, plastic, rubber, or wood (wooden-soled platform shoes are, technically, also clogs). Platform shoes have been worn, for reasons such as fashion or added height, in various cultures since the Ancient era.
After their use in Ancient Greece for raising the height of important characters in the Greek theatre and their similar use by high-born prostitutes or courtesans in Venice in the sixteenth century, platform shoes are thought to have been worn in Europe in the eighteenth century to avoid the muck of urban streets. Of the same practical origins are Japanese geta. There may also be a connection to the buskins of Ancient Rome, which frequently had very thick soles to give added height to the wearer. In ancient China men wore black boots with very thick sole made from layers of white clothes, this style of boots are often worn today on stage for Peking opera. During the Qing dynasty, aristocrat Manchu women wore a form of platform shoe with a separate high heel, a style that was later adopted in Europe during the 1590s.
Platform shoes enjoyed some popularity in the United States, Europe and the UK from the 1930s to the 1950s, but not nearly to the extent of their popularity from the 1960s to the 1980s.
In the early 1930s Moshe (Morris) Kimmel designed the first modern version of the platform shoe for actress Marlene Dietrich. Kimmel, a Jew, escaped Berlin, Germany and settled in the United States with his family in 1939 and opened the Kimmel shoe factory in Los Angeles. The design soon became very popular amongst Beverly Hills elite. The biggest, and most prolonged, platform shoe fad in history began as early as 1967 (appearing in both advertisements and articles in 1970 issues of Seventeen magazine), and continued through to 1979 in Europe and Britain. The fad lasted even further in the US, lasting until as late as the early 1980s. At the beginning of the fad, they were worn primarily by young women in their teens and twenties, and occasionally by younger girls, older women, and (particularly during the disco era) by young men. Although platform shoes did provide added height without the discomfort of spike heels, they seem to have been worn primarily for the sake of attracting attention. Many glam rock musicians wore platform shoes as part of their act.
While a wide variety of styles were popular during this period, including boots, espadrilles, oxfords, sneakers, and sandals of all description, with soles made of wood, cork, or synthetic materials, the most popular style of the late 1960s and early 1970s was a simple quarter-strap sandal with tan water buffalo-hide straps, on a beige suede-wrapped cork wedge-heel platform sole. These were originally introduced under the brand name, "Kork-Ease", but the extreme popularity supported many imitators. Remarkably, there was very little variation in style, and most of that variation was limited to differences in height.
As the fad progressed, manufacturers like Candie's stretched the envelope of what was considered too outrageous to wear, while others, like Famolare and Cherokee of California, introduced "comfort" platforms, designed to combine the added height of platforms with the support and comfort of sneakers, or even orthopedic shoes, and by the time the fad finally fizzled in the late 1980s, girls and women of all ages were wearing them. It may also be a by-product of this fad that Scandinavian clogs, which were considered rather outrageous in the late 1960s and early 1970s, had become classic by the 1980s.
Vivienne Westwood, the UK fashion designer, re-introduced the high heeled platform shoe into high-fashion in the early 1990s; it was while wearing a pair of Super Elevated Gillie with five-inch platforms and nine-inch heels that the super model, Naomi Campbell, fell on the catwalk at a fashion show. However they did not catch on quickly and platform shoes only began to resurface in mainstream fashion in the late 1990s, thanks in part to the UK band the Spice Girls, whose members performed in large shoes.
The United Kingdom (and European) experience of platform shoes was somewhat different from that of the United States. Britain generally is not as concerned with women's feet appearing as small as possible; the long pointed shoes of the early 2000s, giving an elongated look to the foot, have been more popular in the US than in the UK.
The trend re-established itself in the late 1990s and early 2000s with a much higher threshold of what was considered outrageous: parents of 1997 to 2004 typically thought nothing of buying their preschool daughters and sons platform sandals that parents of 1973 would not have wanted their older children wearing. The Walt Disney Company licensed Mickey Mouse cutouts and Disney Princess and Action Man images wearing platform footwear.
- Elton John has a large collection of platform shoes, many of which were sold at auction for charity.
- Spice Girls
- Simon Rimmer wears platform shoe at all times due to his different length legs.
- Lady Gaga wears platform shoes out in public as well for concerts and performances.
- Courtney Stodden
- Charli XCX
- Veruca Salt
- Staff (2006–2010). "Characteristics of Peking Opera Costumes(4)". 1155815 – Chinese Folklores & Festivals. 1155815 – Chinese Folklores & Festivals Website. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
- Debra Mancoff; Michal Raz-Russo (26 July 2011). "Attitude and Altitude: A Short History of Shoes". Encyclopædia Britannica Blog – Facts Matter. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
- In 1972, at 219 Bowery in Manhattan, Carole Basetta developed a special mold for making platform shoes and was successful in selling custom made shoes to people such as David Bowie, David Johanson of the New York Dolls, and several other punk artists. Picture of a classic 1970s men’s platform shoe for going out dancing at a disco from an Internet wardrobe costume rental site:
- "BBC News – Vivienne Westwood shoe exhibition at Bowes Museum". Bbc.co.uk. 10 June 2011. Retrieved 2012-02-13.
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