Making History With Gold Platform Shoes

For many people, the decade of the 1970s is synonymous with the disco scene, with its trademark steady beat, flashing lights, and bell-bottoms. Shiny disco outfits had to attract the right kind of attention, and dominate the glittering dance floor. Few items of clothing are more evocative of this era than gold platform shoes. They were considered a little outrageous at the time, and could add 3-4″ of instant look-at-me height advantage.

The sparkle may have been pure disco, but wearing high-bottomed shoes is not a particularly new or cutting-edge fashion concept. Disco simply rediscovered an old favorite. Super-thick shoe soles have been in and out of style for thousands of years, and for widely differing reasons. They existed in China during the Qing dynasty, and similar footwear is still standard costume in Chinese Opera.

One of their first European appearances was in ancient Greek theater, where they were worn to increase the height and emphasize the importance of characters. These were not the glitzy platforms associated with pop stars. They were basically sandals that had cork or wooden soles. Their use became so effective and popular that Roman actors copied them. Eventually, those extra inches became symbolic of nobility.

Not so noble, however, were the courtesans and high-class prostitutes of 16th century Venice, Italy. For them, wearing platforms increased not only height, but elevated one’s social position and status as well. Catherine d’Medici was said to have showcased 2″ platform heels at her wedding to the Duke of Orleans. As time went by, however, this footwear began to fill a more practical social function. European city streets were still largely unpaved, and could be treacherous with mud and waste. Elevated soles could allow the wearer to rise above this sordid mess, lending an air of unruffled superiority.

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In more modern times the platform style has made a couple of notable comeback debuts. The first time was in 1930s pre-world-war Italy. Sanctions against the Mussolini regime made shoe material scarce, so designers used cork, wedged in layers for soles. The idea took off, and eventually made its way to Hollywood. Stars such as Judy Garland helped to popularize the look of cork soles with gold kid straps on top.

While World War II raged, leather was in short supply not only in Europe, but nearly everywhere else. Shoe designers were forced to be more inventive, and used materials such as cellophane or raffia to decorate wartime versions of the platform. After the war, platform shoes were part of the padded shoulder look, and were featured in most respectable department stores. They remained popular until the end of the fifties, twenty years before being resurrected by retro designers.

Today, platform shoes are just another part of a well-rounded fashion scene. Their popular resurgence during the disco and glam-rock years never completely died away, and periodic fashion flare-ups every few years showcase this style, but only as a choice, not as social trend. The outrageous gold platform shoes of the disco era have actually become collector’s items, nostalgic symbols of those polyester years.