Red Heels

10:37 PM

When Louis XIV came to the throne at the age of four in 1643, French kings had already begun the process of turning France into an absolutist state where the monarch was the absolute authority, his power coming from divine right. Throughout Louis' reign he continued transforming France, especially focusing on reigning in the aristocracy. Traditionally, the aristocracy held a great deal of power, and because France was such a vast territory they were not easily monitored. Aristocrats ruled over their lands like unofficial Kings, thus threatening the power of the actual monarch himself. Louis had several methods for dealing with the aristocracy, giving them privilege but not power. He moved the royal court to the palace at Versailles, and the aristocracy was constantly at court, vying for his royal favor and subsequently staying under his watchful eye.

A perfect example of this system of monitoring the aristocracy is red heels on shoes. Louis declared that only those in the royal favor were allowed the privilege of having red heels on their shoes, allowing everyone to show off when they were in favor. Red heels was like sitting at the popular kids table in school, only the very coolest kids could wear them.

Louis XIV, painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud in 1701.

Suddenly, if you fell out of the royal favor, everyone would know. It's bad enough to be out of the royal favor, it's even worse when you have to advertise it to the world. It was the perfect method for controlling a once unruly upper class. Aristocrats behaved themselves and they didn't have to face the shame of not having red heels on their shoes.

Louis XIV and his family, c. 1715-1720

Notice Louis' grandson, dressed in red and standing to the right. While Louis and his son (standing to the left) are wearing red heels on their shoes, his grandson is not, signaling that he was out of favor around the time this picture was created.

The connection between red heels and the monarchy lasted well past Louis XIV. In 1780 a pamphlet attacking Marie Antoinette was released, entitled Portefeuille d'un talon rouge (the wallet of a red heel). Red heels had become just one more symbol of the absolutist system that was beginning to tear the country apart.

Shoes by Christian Louboutin

Here are some fierce Christian Louboutin shoes. All Louboutin shoes have the inside of the heels and the sole painted red, perhaps a nod to the flashy cabaret girls that originally inspired the designer. For me, I always connect these modern red heels with Louis XIV. After all, wearing a pair of Louboutin shoes expresses the same ideals as wearing red heels in the 17th and 18th centuries- wealth, privilege, and a place in the choicest of social circles.

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  1. The Bata Shoe Museum has an exquisite 18th century shoe with red heels. It is breathtaking in its perfection.
    I've heard a story that Christian Louboutin painted the soles of his first shoe creations with red nail polish to get the effect that he was looking for. I've never heard the cabaret story but the world is filled with inspiration.

  2. Thanks for sharing! We were just looking at Ancien Regime paintings in art history the other day, so perfect timing for me to get to read your post :)

  3. Once again from reading your post, I've learned some random, and totally fascinating, piece of fashion history that will forever change how I view 17th and 18th century art. Now I'm always going to be looking for the red heels!

  4. Hi, have you compared this to the use of red heels in england, which has a parallel but different usage? See, for example, the coronation portrait of Charles II. There's a great article on red shoes and red in shoes in a book called Shoes:A History from Sandals to Sneakers published a few years ago.

  5. Ingrid- I'm desperate to visit the Beta Shoe Museum someday! I'll definitely look out for their red heels.

    Kat- Clearly I am a psychic.

    Rebecca- Glad you enjoyed the post!

    Anonymous- I haven't yet, but I'd definitely like to do more research into the subject. Thanks for the book recommendation!

  6. Hi Katy!

    I've found your blog by chance and I'm truly delighted, I'm learning a lot...

    I would like to ask your permission to translate this article to spanish and to paste it on a fashion forum (, I'll credit you as the writer and put a link to your blog.
    We have a thread about C.Louboutin and I thought it would be of interest.
    Would it be OK?

    1. That would be fabulous! Do send me the link when you're finished.

    2. That would be fabulous! Do send me the link when you're finished.

  7. I am doin a project and i would like to know your sources

  8. Indeed, the color red denotes power & passion - both were prevalent in the royal court of Louis XIV!

  9. I used this blog as a source for a paper I'm writing about the parallel between Magnificence in the monarchy and in modern hip-hop. Thanks!