Deconstructed: the kitten heel

Long favoured in royal courts, these practical heels are officially back in fashion

 From 2015, kitten heels had been quietly making their return to the runway. Courtesy Sergio Rossi
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The term kitten heel was coined in the 1950s, but the style has been in (and out) of vogue since the 1600s when King Louis XIV – only 1.62 metres tall, used small heels to help him appear taller and more powerful. His red-heeled shoes, later to inspire Christian Louboutin, became his trademark. These heeled power shoes were adopted by other kings, and so the early kitten heel was born.

The shorter heel spread to popular culture in the 1950s, when young girls, or "kittens", wore them to ease themselves into the painful art of walking in stilettos. The shoes were characterised by a lower heel – usually 4 centimetres to 4.5cm. 

But this more comfortable style soon snuck on to the feet of older teenagers, and by the 1960s, kitten heels reigned supreme for women of all ages. This was helped by Roger Vivier during his collaboration with Christian Dior between 1953 and 1963. While he famously upped heel height during this time, his earlier collections brought kitten heels to the masses, creating chic, feminine designs that were also practical. Their popularity was boosted by actress Audrey Hepburn, who wore them in classic films including Breakfast at Tiffany's and Sabrina.

Kitten heels took a back seat to stilettos and platforms in the 1970s, enjoying a resurgence in the late 1980s and, by the 1990s, kitten heels really dominated the runways. Miuccia Prada created a cult kitten mule, Gucci developed gold kitten slingbacks, Hermès added them to leather Danger boots, and Manolo Blahnik popped a kitten heel on just about everything.

But the noughties eventually brought about towering, statement heels, forcing kittens back into their box. They remained firmly out of fashion for much of the late noughties and early teens, until Vogue declared them officially back last year. Since 2015, they have featured heavily on the runways for Miu Miu, Molly Goddard and Acne Studio for autumn/winter 2018.

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