Some guys are now elevating men’s fashion, literally, by throwing on high heels. Like nail polish, makeup, and skirts, wearing heels is another way men are choosing to express themselves through unconventional fashion choices.
But these heights aren’t exactly new. Some historians trace the origin of high-heeled shoes to the 10th century, when they were worn by members of the Persian cavalry to help keep their shoes stable in stirrups. According to historian Maude Bass-Krueger, men in the 17th century wore high heels, tight and colored stockings, and britches to emphasize their shapely legs. Louis XIV even passed an edict that stated that only members of his court could wear red heels.
High heels are more associated with women’s fashion in the modern day, but now some men—like pop icons, rock stars, and this grandfather who went viral for pairing his button-downs and suit jackets with high heels and pencil skirts—are keeping the aesthetic alive for guys.
As more people embrace non-binary fashion, it seems like more men are learning how to walk in heels—whether it’s to look good, feel more confident, or use them to step on the neck of gender norms.
“I wear heels because I personally like the way my legs look in them. It’s as simple as that,” Melbourne-based musical theater performer Jake O’Brien, 26, told VICE.
O’Brien bought his first pair of heels for an audition in 2015, but didn’t wear heels regularly until 2020.
“COVID has caused me to reflect a lot, and I have always wanted to wear what society claims as more feminine, so I thought, Stuff it, why not?” said O’Brien, adding that he sometimes cleans his house in heels just to make it more fun.
O’Brien posts videos of him rocking heels on TikTok, where videos with the hashtag #meninheels currently have a total of around 77.4 million views, while those with the hashtag #boysinheels have around 74.3 million all together.
Alex Ringler, an actor from New York, said wearing heels makes him more confident.
“There’s a strut that I do in heels that I can’t really do in flats, and that makes me feel pretty fabulous,” he said.
He also has a dance background, which made learning how to walk in heels easier. Ringler said he now owns heels in a variety of styles—sandals, pumps, and boots included.
“Fashion should be about having fun and finding what you like to wear and look like. [It] can be an art form, and like any art form, it helps to learn the rules so you can break them in new and interesting ways,” he said.
Ringler said that he’s thankful to be able to experiment with his fashion without many repercussions and acknowledged that “many other men are not so lucky.”
People have reacted in different ways to O’Brien’s and Ringler’s shoe choices.
“Every straight male I’ve ever met wants to put on heels after a few drinks,” said O’Brien. But the straight men around Ringler have been less enthusiastic. “Straight men who are strangers either ignore it or roll their eyes,” he said.
However, they said that women they’ve met have taken it well, with some asking Ringler for tips on walking in heels, and others telling O’Brien that they wished their boyfriends wore heels as well.
While he said he doesn’t do it as a statement on masculinity, Ringler recognizes that wearing heels “is a bit of a middle finger to societal norms.”
Marcus Territory, a 26-year-old content creator based in Ontario, agrees.
“I like throwing a wrench into what people think when they think ‘masculine,’” said Territory. “I want to express that heels can be just another clothing item that guys can play with, and enjoy, and still be masculine.”
Territory is careful, however, to not use wearing heels—or skirts, dresses, and nail polish—as an easy way to get attention from an audience. He said doing so could easily turn femininity into a punchline. For him, wearing these clothing items shouldn’t be seen as weird but normal.
He tries, then, to wear heels unironically.
“The primary purpose of the heels is to be just another piece of an unambiguously masculine outfit... a way to explore new aesthetics and styles.”
Intentions aside, Territory acknowledges that the rise of non-binary fashion is a “net positive overall,” and allows more men to express themselves in new ways.
Ringler believes that people have their own reasons for wearing non-binary fashion, from the banal to the profound.
“Anyone can wear anything,” Ringler said. “People around you are going to have opinions about what you’re wearing… the only opinion that really matters is your own.”
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