High Heels vs Stilettos – How Are They Different? Similar?

Group of women wearing high heels or stiletto shoes
If you ask some people about fashionable shoes, they will tell you that there are all kinds of different high heels that can look great and stylish…and then, in a class by themselves, there are stilettos. Can you tell the difference between a stiletto and another type of high heel? Do you know which style suits you best? And are stilettos really more fashionable?

High Heels

Woman wearing red high heels

High heels got their start as far back as the 1300s. Women in Italy began wearing platform shoes known as chopines. The platforms lifted women up as much as 18 inches off the ground. Over the next two centuries, the style evolved to become high heels.

Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled England in the last half of the 1500s, was one of the first monarchs in Europe to wear a high heel shoe. Royals and nobles wore high heels for the style and for the regal appearance the heels gave them. The first true high heeled shoes were known as a court shoe because they were popular at royal courts. These shoes were made in elaborate styles with a low heel design, more like modern spool heels.

It wasn’t until the 1750s that wearing heels really caught on and spread to everyone else, too.

Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of King Louis XV, wore high heels so often that they were often called “Pompadour” heels. Her shoes were made with the French style of heel, which was a curvy, somewhat boxy shape. The look became popular with even the common folk and soon, high-heeled shoe styles swept all across Europe.

Women’s heels became slimmer and more streamlined thanks to Christian Dior. When Dior unveiled the “New Look” designs in 1947, it totally changed fashion. Today, there are many different styles of high heels and many types of heels that keep them supported. The long list of heel style types you can find on shoes today includes the kitten heel, block heel, wedge heel, platform heel and chunky heel, to name just a few. Oddly, the supportive wedge sole design came along on the shoe scene pretty late.

Stiletto Heels

Woman wearing red stiletto heels

Though elevated shoes and high-heeled shoes appeared as early as the 1400s, the slender stiletto heel is a much more modern invention. After centuries of high heel styles, the stiletto burst onto the fashion scene in the 1950s.

The distinguishing characteristic of the stiletto is the extremely skinny heel, which is named for the Italian dagger that has a needle-sharp point and a slender design. This super-thin heel size was possible thanks to the aircraft industry. Often, the heel height of stilettos is higher than what you see in other shoe designs.

The new materials and techniques that were being used in aviation were applied to shoe technology. Aluminum and injection molding made it possible for high heels to become taller and skinnier than ever.

Glamorous stars of the 1950s and 1960s helped popularize the stiletto, setting a trend that other women would follow and continue to follow decades later. Shoe legend says that screen icon Marilyn Monroe shaved a quarter-inch off one of her stiletto heels on every pair so that she would walk with that little wiggle that has become such a big part of her legend.

A stiletto heel narrows as it reaches the bottom of the heel. The heel can be anywhere from 1 to 5 inches but it’s common to see stiletto heels in very tall styles. The stiletto is a favorite heel type for fashion designers and shoe designers. It’s now considered a timeless, always-fashionable style, though numerous foot experts have said that high heels are bad for the feet.

In popular culture, stilettos have been seen in film and TV as instruments of danger and defense, used by women onscreen to fend off an attacker and even to commit murder. Stilettos are frequently associated with high fashion and with sexual energy. These shoes look good with everything, from skinny jeans to miniskirts.

Stilettos are a type of heel, which means they can be found on a number of different types of high heel styles. A thin stiletto heel can be attached to a strappy sandal, a pump shoe, a slingback, an ankle strap design or any other type of high-heeled shoe. They can be made in any material, from plastic to patent leather, and still be stilettos. Even an ankle boot can have a stiletto heel.

High Heels vs Stilettos

So which one wins this battle of style? Are stilettos the go-to shoe you should be rocking? Or will any type of high heels help you strut your fashion sense for the world to see? Stilettos are a type of high heel. Sure, they are a truly standout type of high heel that has achieved fashion fame. But they are part of the high heel pantheon that has helped to define style and shape fashion for centuries. So there can be no winner in this battle, because stilettos are a type of high heel that has helped to make high heels the must-have choice for all high fashion.

FAQs

There’s lots to know about high heels in general and stilettos in particular. If you still have lingering questions, so does everybody else! Get the answers to the most common questions about stilettos, high heels and how you can elevate your style above everyone else as long as you’ve got the right pair of shoes.

What are the most comfortable stilettos?

Many different brands of high heels design stilettos with the intent to make them as comfortable as possible. However, stilettos lift up the back of your heels and point your toes downward. This changes your natural walk and changes the way that walking impact strikes your feet. It’s an unnatural position to put your feet in and to walk in. All the great design and cushioning in the world can’t make stilettos completely comfortable because they will always place your feet in an unnatural position. All stilettos can cause foot problems like plantar fasciitis.

What’s the difference between stilettos and cone heel designs?

At first blush, stiletto heels and cone heels look very similar. Both types of heels are long and slender. The difference is that cone heels are more triangular or coned shaped. They are wider at the top and then taper downward to a small, skinny tip. Stiletto heels are much skinner overall.

What is the ideal heel height?

The answer to what the ideal heel height is really depends on who you ask. A fashionista may say that heels should be super high, four inches and above. But if you ask a podiatrist, according to Glamour, they’re going to say you should keep your heels between one to three inches. Heels are never great for your feet but when you keep them at a low height, you’ll do less damage. The lower height usually makes for a more comfortable heel.

What if you can’t walk in stilettos?

Stilettos are actually quite difficult to walk in. Most women, in fact, have struggled to stay balanced on skinny stilettos at one time or another, even the most fashionable influencers in the world. Glamorous actresses and models have stumbled and fallen on their high heels, sometimes in highly public circumstances. Jennifer Lawrence famously tripped on her way to the stage to receive her Academy Award nomination. The simple truth is, stilettos and all high heels are not easy to walk in. When it comes to women’s shoes, these are really high up on the “dangerous” list.

To walk well in stilettos, stand up straight with your shoulders back and your head forward. When you take a step, place your heel first, smoothly move through to the toe and the ball of the foot. Shift your weight to this leg, life up your second leg and take your next step. You should also take small steps and keep your knees natural and relaxed. Don’t be afraid to bend your knees as you walk.

If you’ve never walked in heels before, you may want to stay away from stilettos and work your way up to them. If you’ve never put on a pair of high heels and you slip into the tallest stilettos at the store, you’re going to fall and possibly hurt yourself. You may want to try something a little more supportive first, like a wedge shoe, and then start practicing on skinnier heels. Start with a lower heel height and then go up.

How should stilettos fit?

When your stilettos don’t fit, they’re even harder to walk in and more dangerous, too. A tall, skinny high heel that doesn’t fit properly increases your risk of falling or misstepping in a way that could lead to injury.

So, do your stilettos fit the right way? Pay attention to how they feel as you put them on and take them off. Do you have to struggle to get your feet inside? That means your shoes are too small. If the shoes slide on and off your feet with extreme ease, the shoes are too big.

Stand up tall while wearing your shoes. Do you notice any pinching? Is any part of your foot or a significant chunk of skin sticking out of the shoe where it shouldn’t be? Look at your feet. Is the heel of the shoe sitting snugly, but not too snugly, against your own heel? If there is a noticeable gap between the back of your heel and the heel of the shoe, these shoes are too big. Even an adjustable strap may not be able to fix this problem.

Feel your own toes. Even with a pointed toe shoe design, there shouldn’t be any pinching or tightness in your toes.

How about the sides of your feet? Are they hanging off the sides of the shoes or are they crammed up inside? You need your heels to fit well everywhere, on every part of your foot. Get the right shoe size every time by paying attention to size conversion charts when you buy online.

How can you make stilettos more comfortable?

There are some things you can do to fix a pair of stilettos that are uncomfortable. If your shoes are just too high, a shoe repair shop can shave the heels down up to an inch in some shoe designs. If your shoes are too tight or pinch your feet anywhere, try putting on a thick pair of socks and wearing the heels over them. Wear them around the house for a couple days and see if this loosens up the shoes. This will work with leather but some materials do not have a lot of stretch to them.

Try lining the inside of heels with moleskin if you’re getting blisters or uncomfortable rubbing. Moleskin works wonders for preventing blisters. This is a good choice for leather shoes that aren’t lined.

Woman wearing stilettos

Can you wear high heels after bunion surgery?

Bunion surgery can be painful and has a bit of a long healing time. You may not be able to walk properly at all for six weeks. But after you have fully healed after the surgery, you can wear high heels again if you choose to do so. However, bunions are caused by high heels and the pressure they put on your big toe. If you wear them again, you will likely end up getting bunions again. You might want to consider switching to a flat shoe or maybe even something highly comfortable like crocs or sneakers. [Source: UChicago Medicine]

Why do some stilettos have red soles?

If you see a pair of stilettos with red soles, you’re looking at one of two things: either it’s a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes or it’s a pair of shoes that’s trying to look like a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes. The designer is famous for designing shoes with bright red soles, a little detail that has made these heels incredibly popular. It’s an immediately recognizable designer look and those who know shoes can always spot a pair of Louboutins. [Source: Cosmopolitan]

Some designers, like Louboutin, use color to distinguish their high heels. Others, like Jimmy Choo, stick to a distinct profile, like the elongated pointed toe pump design of the Choo shoe. If an ankle strap heel design is to your liking, you won’t find it with Jimmy Choo.

See “Are High Heels Really that Bad for Your Feet?

How long will high heels last?

It’s super hard to get rid of shoes, even once they’re past their prime. After all, shoes cost a pretty penny. And you probably tell yourself they’ve got a few good miles left. But you can wear out a pair of high heels until there is little to no support left, which is no good for your feet. A worn-out shoe can put a lot of strain on your muscles and cause a lot of leg and foot pain. It can also increase your chances of injuries, such as twisted ankles.

There is no set date you can make on the calendar for when to throw out old shoes because so much depends on how much they’ve been worn and the quality of the construction in the first place. High heels also wear down faster than flats. If you seen the nail starting to poke through at the heel, get heel lifts. This can extend the life of your heels. But if the thickness of the sole and insole have worn down by half, it’s time to stop wearing those heels, according to the Seattle Times. Wear will appear around the toe box area of the shoe first.

Sources:

  • Cosmopolitan – How to make high heels more comfortable
  • Encyclopedia of Fashion – Stiletto Heel
  • LoveToKnow – High Heels
  • Luxe – Take Shoe Comfort To New Heights With 2021’s Most Comfortable Heels
  • New York Post – The history of high heels — from Venice prostitutes to stilettos
  • The Trend Spotter – 30 Types of Heels Every Woman Should Know
  • Vogue – Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Stiletto
  • WikiHow – How to Know if You’re Wearing the Right Size High Heels
  • WikiHow – How to Walk in Stilettos

 

Scroll to Top