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It’s hard to imagine what classical Greek theater has to do with the disco phase of the 1970s and early 1980s. There is one thing that definitely connects the two: the platform shoe. In Greek theater, important lead characters often wore shoes that were elevated with a heavy sole so that the character’s integral role was emphasized. Appearing taller helped achieve this effect.
Throughout history, many cultures have made use of some form of platform shoe. In some cases, an elevated shoe with a wide base protected feet or skirts from mud. Men who wished to appear taller frequently appeared in heels. Much later, fashions of the 1970s and 1980s took cues from Grecian, Roman, European, and Japanese styles, and the platform shoe burst onto the disco scene as the ultimate fashion accessory to bellbottom pants.
Platform shoes have a wide, high sole that elevates the feet by several inches, instead of the traditional thin sole that most shoes tend to have. In platform shoes, both the toe and heel are usually elevated. The entire sole of the shoe can be completely elevated, having a rubberized or cork bottom, or merely the toes and heels have a platform base. Heel sections are generally quite wide.
In some shoes, this elevation provided greater stability. Brands like Famolare’s were famous for their rippled rubber sole on simple loafers. In others cases, platform shoes were extremely hard to walk on, making even the highest stiletto seem like a slipper in comparison. Exceptionally high platform heels and toes were easily the cause of many a sprained ankle, since the foot could quickly turn sideways even while walking on even ground. Dancing in platforms could be even more of a challenge, though many women perfected the art.
If you’d like to reminisce about platform shoes, look no further than the 1970s classic film Saturday Night Fever. In the film, platform shoes abound, and are worn by both women and men. John Travolta’s white dance shoes are an excellent example of men’s platform shoes.
Some types of platform shoes never really went out of style after the 1970s. A slightly raised platform covering the whole sole is still popular in casual sandals and loafers. Extra rubber gave a little more spring to the step, and you can still find many nurse's shoes with an inch or two of platform, which helps cushion feet during long work shifts. As a fashion statement in the 1980s, platform shoes gave way to the retro 1940s/1950s pointy-toed heels.
Men, for the most part gave up on “elevator shoes” which gave them a few more inches in height. Yet fashion has a way of returning, and platform shoes enjoyed another famous moment in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Especially with many of the 1970s fashion styles back for a retread, platform shoes were featured not only in dress shoes, but also on boots, and loafers. One episode of America’s Top Model featured a challenge for the competitors walking in “extreme” platform shoes. Most of the women tripped and staggered up the runway, and one girl even sprained a toe.
Some of the newer womens platform shoes are crazy! I actually saw a pair of platform shoes that didn't even have a heel; it just had the sole that went up into the air. I can't even imagine what a nightmare that must be to balance in.
I also saw a pair where they were made almost entirely rectangular, almost like a solid block for the heel.
Of course, the craziest ones that I've ever seen actually had a tiny TV set embedded in the heel. Granted, they were concept shoes, but still -- a TV! I don't really know why, since it's not like you could watch it while you walked. Who knows -- maybe it's just for show.
Anyway, you ladies can have platform shoes; I'll just stick to my Chucks (and healthy ankles).
I think that as far as shoes go, platforms are about the hardest things ever to walk in. Luckily the whole platform shoe craze was before my time, so I've usually managed to stay closer to the ground.
Of course, I did go crazy one time and get a pair of black leather platform shoes, but that lasted about a day until I fell off of them...repeatedly.
So I have to say that I'm glad that the whole platform thing is going out -- it's just too much work for my taste.
Oh wow -- I hadn't thought about high platform shoes in ages. I have to admit, when I was growing up platform dress shoes were absolutely all the rage.
I was all into wedge platform shoes, the taller the better. Unfortunately, I never perfected the art of dancing in platform shoes, so I mostly stood and watched, but it was still fun to see everybody tottering around on their shoes.
And like you said, men were totally into it too! I think that mens platform shoes were even more extreme than the womens in some cases, which made it even funnier since men didn't have any experience walking in tall shoes, whereas women had at least walked in high heels before.
Great article -- thanks for bringing back all those memories!
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