What are Kitten Heels?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Kitten heels are low, curved heels on women shoes, first popularized by Audrey Hepburn in the 1950s. Though still considered high heels, most are 1.5 inches (3.81 cm) or lower, providing comfort for women who do not like wearing higher heels. Suggestions as to how these shoes got their name center on comparing the heel to the claws of a kitten. Like a kitten claw, the heel curves inward from the back of the shoe, and then comes to point, slightly wider than the typical stiletto point.

Kitten heels are less than 2 inches tall.
Kitten heels are less than 2 inches tall.

Early kitten heels, with that “feminine curve,” were often higher than 2 inches (5.08 cm). You can still find vintage shoes in thrift stores or vintage stores, and they are likely to be a higher heeled shoe than modern versions. In the 1950s, lower heeled ones were also made and considered “trainer” heels for pre-teens and young teenagers learning to balance on high heels. A girl’s first high-heeled shoe might have been kitten heels.

Actress Audrey Hepburn made kitten heels famous in the 1950s.
Actress Audrey Hepburn made kitten heels famous in the 1950s.

Most fashion trends fade and are then “reborn.” Such is the case with kitten heels, which became popular for the second time in 2004. They have continued in popularity because the inward curving heel is thought “sexy,” but is more comfortable to wear. These heels may be found on pumps, ankle or knee boots, and strappy sandals, all offering foot relief while remaining dressy.

Some people feel that kitten heels are easier to walk in than stilettos because they have more stability. The heel's point is usually under the middle of the heel instead of the back, as with stiletto points. This is due to the inward curve of the heel. The lower heel also translates to less of a balancing act, which makes them more suitable for walking or dancing the night away at a prom or ball. A taller woman may prefer these heels because they deemphasize height, which may be advantageous if one’s mate or date is a little shorter.

Women who wish to make their feet appear smaller may not be happy with the look of shoes with such heels. Higher shoes translate to smaller looking” feet. Both kitten heels and flats, especially in light colors, will not achieve this effect. Other women may feel comfort is far more important than foot size appearance. Kitten heels promote this comfort while remaining fashionable and attractive shoes.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I read that kitten heels are centered in the middle of the heel. (Side note: when I started ballroom dancing, the actual dancing shoes are made the same way. What I noticed is my weight was on the back of my feet. Once I learned to change my weight distribution all was fine, and it helped in regular shoes.) So to answer your question you might want to pay attention to your weight distribution. Once you get use to this; your body posture will change and make your whole self feel better. Good luck!


I agree that kitten heels are much more comfortable than other types of heels, but I have found that they tend to break more easily. They are one of my favorite types of shoes, but I don’t really buy them anymore because I’ve had so many of the heels snap. Does anyone else have this problem?

It seems strange, since the heels are shorter and it would seem like they would be able to hold better without buckling, but a lot of mine have snapped at the base. It could just be that they are low-quality, but I’m wary of buying more expensive ones if this is a problem with the type of shoe in general.

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