Louie XIV of France, also known as The Sun King, ruled from 1643-1715 and during his reign transformed the French court and moved himself and his courtiers to the former hunting lodge at Versailles.
In this portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud we see the 63 year old monarch in all his pomp and glory. And his red heeled shoes.
Why was a 63 year old man so keen to show off his high heels?
Because they were a status symbol. In fact the very origin of the term comes from the court of The Sun King where access to Louie and the Palace of Versailles was strictly regulated.
The King deemed that Red was a Royal colour and that only those in favour at the court could wear it. To own and wear a pair of red heeled shoes was a privilege. One that could be taken away. However it didn’t end there, the height of the heels also determined how important you were, and Louie of course had the highest heels.
This style of shoe was based on that worn by riders performing Classical Dressage. The heels help a rider to keep a grip in the stirrups. This is the form of riding now most associated with the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. These days most people think of this style of riding as being aesthetic, a performance. However the movements are those that a skilled rider could use on a c17 battlefield.
Louie in his youth was a very skilled rider and he didn’t want anyone to forget it. The blood red on the heel was to show the monarchy would crush all who opposed it under it’s heel.
Shoes were not the only status symbol at Versailles, the most prized was to have a very long nail on the little finger of the left hand.
Only those of the highest status could be present for the ritual dressing of the king. An opportunity to speak to the king in private and a sure sign that you were one of the most trusted men in France.
However to gain access to the King’s Boudoir you didn’t knock rather you would gently scrape at the doorframe with your finger nail.
After the end of the French Monarchy red heeled shoes were worn by prostitutes, a sort of sly roleplay that they had once been royal. As time past can can dancers would wear red soles and now for most people red shoes are associated with the night and burlesque. Although that too was a world that Louie would indulge in.