Meow! She’s baaaacck—the kitten heel, that is.
The classic heel shape has weaved in an out of fashion since the time of Louis XIV of France. Perhaps a reaction to towering heels and comfort shoes alike, the delicate heels were everywhere from Prada, Dior, Marni, Miu Miu, Bottega Veneta, and more on the runways.
In his time, the diminutive Sun King upped his stature through his trademark red heels (this was like, waaaay before Christian Louboutin). The heel-wearing trend in both a chunky and kitten style spread to other kings, who sported them at their coronations, and eventually led to ruling by the king that forbade members outside his court to sport them. In some circles, glancing at one shoes is still de rigueur—and definitely a way of judging people that has its roots in court life!
Pompous king aside, the kittens heels became popular once more in the 1950s. The name came about because the style was considered a training heel for “kittens,” aka young girls not ready for grown women’s high heel stilettos, which were also gaining in popularity thanks in part to Roger Vivier.
The French designer, who also designed at Christian Dior, coined the word “stiletto” when he brought back a heel style most associated with 19th century fetish footwear drawings up to that point. Though even Vivier was hip to the new petite heel, and introduced his own version of the comma or virgule, a style that still lives on today.
What’s in a name though? In Australia, the name generally refers to sky-high heels of five inches or more that require the wearer to walk on their tiptoes like a slinky feline. Yeah that and presumably they encouraged some “catting-around” as well. Speaking of cats, Marilyn Monroe was a known shoe lover, having several pairs of custom-made Salvatore Ferragamo stiletto pumps (including a pair in crocodile), but even she couldn’t resist a kitten heel from time to time. Despite their initial training heel status, the shoes gained in popularity especially with 1960s Beatnik and Mod movements, whose dance-heavy and alternative society lifestyles lent itself to the more louche attitude of the mini heel.
In more recent popularity, the craze took hold in the '90s, when supermodels like Naomi, Cindy, Linda, and Christy sported them, especially in a mule style during many of the glamorous photo spreads in the pages of Vogue, Elle, and so forth. But after hours the girls also favoured the shoe—after all, when towering above the crowd in height, the shoe offered a heel without looking like you moonlit for the NBA.
Michelle Obama did more for American fashion or even fashion in general since fellow First Ladies Nancy Reagan and Jackie Kennedy did before her. But when it came to her shoes, she favoured kitten heels from across the pond made by Jimmy Choo. The style-setter has a no-nonsense approach to her wardrobe and being Mrs. President requires you to be on your feet—a lot. Imagine walking down Pennsylvania Avenue as she did on both of her husband’s inaugurations in a stiletto. Ouch.
With all things 90's circling back around, it’s no surprise with that the kitten heel is making another comeback today. Especially popular with short jeans, Manolo Blahnik and Balenciaga have cornered the mule as well as Celiné, who started showing the petite heel on mix-matched pumps for Spring 2017. Marco De Vincenzo showed a ruffled pair on his latest runway.
At Miuccia Prada’s Miu Miu Spring 2018 show a few weeks ago they were paired with colourful stockings and nice touch to the re-worked 1950s duds. Ditto at Prada, whose retro rockabilly infused-romp showed a fantastic studded sling back style showing that this nubile feline heel can also be one tough cat.