For most of fashion history, shoes ranked as an afterthought. But over the last century, changes in consumer culture and fashion have transformed a lowly element of apparel into an important accessory that sometimes costs millions of dollars and are the envy of "Sex and the City" fans everywhere.
The most expensive pairs of shoes in history come from a series produced by designer Stuart Weitzman, said Rebecca Shawcross, the shoe resources officer at the Northampton Museum in England. Weitzman produced the shoes between 2002 and 2008 for actresses to wear to the Academy Awards . Each pair was unique, and featured hundreds of jewels laced into platinum settings. Weitzman dubbed them Million Dollar Shoes, but estimates place the cost of some of the pairs at two or three times that, Shawcross told Life's Little Mysteries.
Shoe worship has perhaps reached its epitome in the torrid love affair that the "Sex and the City" characters have with stilettos, but the trend of paying increasing attention to this accessory has a long history.
Those Weitzman heels represent the culmination of a shoe culture that has developed over the last hundred years, said Elizabeth Semmelhack, the senior curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.
The first shoes were worn 40,000 year ago. And for more than 39 millennia, they remained utilitarian. During the Middle Ages and up through the end of the 1800s, fashion focused primarily on the dress or suit, and on accessories such as hats, gloves and ornate jewelry. However, as fashion has become more democratic, most of those accessories have fallen out of daily use, leaving the shoe as the main avenue for flaunting one's status through dress, Semmelhack told Life's Little Mysteries.
This concept of being really focused on footwear is a newer development. In many ways, we've lost innumerable accessories we've had access to historically, Semmelhack said. If you look at pictures from the 1920s, everyone is wearing a hat, but the hat is no longer a status symbol. Most women only have their handbags and their shoes left.
The progress of shoes from a practical accessory to an iconic fashion item followed the increased costs associated with branding, Semmelhack said.
At the turn of the 20th century, an Italian shoe designer named Pietro Yantorny created the first designer footwear. His name became synonymous with luxury, driving the cost of his shoes past what the craftsmanship and aesthetics might otherwise demand, Shawcross said.
The early 20th century is when you get the cult of the designer. Yantorny is considered the first designer, and his impact was pretty big, Shawcross said. It's down to the name. If it's a designer name, it demands the price, even when they are not as well made as you'd imagine.
Soon other designers such as Italy's Salvatore Ferragamo followed, creating a cycle in which shoes became more expensive simply because they were already expensive, and thus were associated with status, Semmelhack said. Shoe designers wanted to associate themselves with luxury, a quest that culminated in Weitzman's jewel-encrusted heels, said Semmelhack.
It seems that quest caught on. For the ladies of "Sex and the City," Weitzman's glamorous heels surely represent the ultimate shoegasm.