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What Makes a Stiletto a Stiletto?


mlroseplant
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Several days ago, I took part in an interesting discussion about stiletto design, mainly involving @Pufferand me. Unfortunately, it was on the "new shoes" thread, and I thought it would be in bad form to continue it there. I've rarely had success in keeping momentum when transferring something to another thread, but I am going to try anyhow.

In the knife world, a stiletto is a small, straight dagger that has an extremely sharp point and two cutting edges. Traditionally, the edges were not even sharpened, and the user relied solely upon the sharp point for the dagger to do its damage. In modern times.  .  . well, who cares what they do in modern times, what has this got to do with heels? The point is, and I do mean point, that the dagger and the style of shoe heel have certain similarities, but the similarities only go so far.

The discussion that Puffer and I were having centered upon the question of "When is a stiletto heel not really a stiletto heel?" We both agreed that mere tininess at the bottom of the heel does not necessarily a stiletto make. It has to have a certain shape to it from top to bottom, and a certain proportion which can be rather difficult to describe. After some consideration, I have determined that the key factor is that to be a true stiletto, the heel tip must be small, and it must have a straight section that extends somewhat more than halfway up the entire length of the heel, starting from the tip. Traditionally, there is a pleasing curvature between the seat (the part where the top of the heel meets the body of the shoe) and the straight section, but I do not believe it is a requirement for stiletto status. To my mind, the transition from large to small diameter could be angular, or it could not exist at all, as in those awful heels that look like 3/8" metal rods stuck to the bottom of a shoe.

Let us examine five pairs of shoes that I have pictured here, and I will say why I think they are examples of true stilettos or not. The first example, pictured in the first two images on the left hand side, is what I would call a classic shaped stiletto heel, if a little bit on the tall side for some here. It begins at 10 mm, both front to back and side to side, remains at that dimension for half the length of the heel, then gradually curves to the larger dimension, both from the back and from the side(s), until it matches the dimension of the seat. No question about stiletto status here.

The second example, pictured in the first two images in the center, I would call a "setback" stiletto, though the setback is not as severe as some examples we see in modern fashion. It starts at 9 mm, remains at that diameter for more than half the length of the heel. Although it has very little curvature at the back (viewed from the side), it has a marked curvature on the sides (viewed from the back), until it increases to the dimension of the seat. Not perhaps as pleasing as the first example, but still clearly a stiletto.

The third example, pictured in the first two images on the right hand side, are the new-to-me pumps I bought recently, and here is where things start to get a little murky. This heel begins at 10 mm measured side to side, but is 12 mm measured front to back. A little bit on the big side for a stiletto, but not in and of itself a disqualifier. The murkiness begins when you examine the curvature of the heel. Moving from the tip up, the tip dimension is only maintained for about a inch, maybe a little bit more. At that point, the dimension of the heel gets larger, and it gradually increases at an ever increasing rate (in other words, not straight sided like a cone) until it finally meets the seat. I could go either way on this one. I don't feel like it's a true stiletto, especially when viewed from the side, because there is not really enough percentage of straight section, although there is some. I could entertain an argument that says this is a stiletto, although my gut tells me that it's close, but no cigar.

The fourth example, pictured in the third image by itself, are the Aldo oxfords I bought probably 8 years ago, and were my first truly narrow heels, and also the first heels I ever had that were dressy enough to wear with a suit. Previous heels I had were all chunky-ish heeled clogs or wedge sandals. Although these were benchmark shoes for me in my heeling journey, I'm going to draw the line here, and say that these are NOT a stiletto heel, at least not in the pure sense. First, the tip starts at about 12 mm measured in both directions, which is ever-so-slightly on the big side for stilettos, but let's ignore that for a moment. The shape of the heel is not right for a stiletto. Starting from the tip, there is almost no straight section, especially when viewed from the side. It's not a cone heel, it definitely has a nice curvature to it viewed from the back, but it doesn't really have much of a straight section, so therefore cannot be called a stiletto heel. I still like them though, and have worn them very recently in public. They nearly always get compliments.

Lastly, we will examine the fifth example, pictured in the fourth image, and lifted from the internet, the Casadei Blade heel. Though it seems in many ways like it ought to be a stiletto (after all, its name is "blade," is it not?), the curvature of the heel starts way too soon after moving away from the tip, and that to me disqualifies it as a true stiletto. Also, it has that rectangular cross section. I don't know if that alone disqualifies it, but it somehow doesn't seem right. I could definitely imagine that there may some disagreement on this example.

And that's my attempt to resurrect a subject I feel needs more discussion. It took rather more pencil than I had at first imagined, but hopefully I have laid out my opinion clearly enough, and now you can add yours!

StilettosBack.jpg

StilettosSide.jpg

AldoNearStilOxford.jpg

Casadei Blades.jpg

Edited by mlroseplant
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I agree with your assessments as a whole, and love your examples. I have a pair of blades, actually seem to get the most and best comments when I'm wearing them. I have another example not shown, I'm at work so no access to imagery. I have severl pair of metal round cross section heels with little taper from the tip until just before the foot heel. I consider these to be stilettos but kind of a sub-class. Spike stilettos. 

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Good thread, well said.

I have wanted Casadei Blades in shoes or boots and have no issue with the price, they stop at size 10 and that sucks!!, I am an 11

Edited by CAT
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I think splitting hairs with a measuring tool is a bit on the nerdy side. But if it gives us a fun thread with lots of pics we all come out as winners. Personally I think the most of us can recognize what to us is a stiletto heel when we see one and we know which shapes tickle our fancy and which ones make us recoil in horror.

19 hours ago, CAT said:

Good thread, well said.

I have wanted Casadei Blades in shoes or boots and have no issue with the price, they stop at size 10 and that sucks!!, I am an 11

I like them too, but at that price I'll take a Chinese knockoff from Onlymaker. Sorry, Casadei, one Chinese knockoff sale does not equal one lost sale in your case as at that price you  never had me. Plus you don't have anything in my size range anyway.

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21 hours ago, Jkrenzer said:

I agree with your assessments as a whole, and love your examples. I have a pair of blades, actually seem to get the most and best comments when I'm wearing them. I have another example not shown, I'm at work so no access to imagery. I have severl pair of metal round cross section heels with little taper from the tip until just before the foot heel. I consider these to be stilettos but kind of a sub-class. Spike stilettos. 

 

21 hours ago, Isolathor said:

Are these stilettos?

P1040082a.thumb.JPG.cf3bc71c8f521446b7a12a9173030fcb.JPG

Both of you seem to have the same type of heel in mind, and I believe I addressed that in my initial definition, but without a pictorial presentation of such. And yes, I think such shoes clearly meet the definition of "stiletto heel." I believe that definition even includes those shoes of this type without a true "seat," ungainly as that may look. See attached photo. The shape and size of the heel still meets the definition.

On a more personal note, I have always liked the metal heeled stilettos, but don't actually own any. I was introduced to such in the late 1980s, when shops such as Wild Pair and Bakers had models with just the bottom half that was metal. Such a pair was featured as the murder weapon in the 1992 film "Single White Female." Oddly enough, this type of heel was on its way out of fashion by then. I've only seen a few of these out in the wild, but they sure did have a distinctive sound.

GianmarcoLorenziMetal.jpg

15 minutes ago, Chorlini said:

I think splitting hairs with a measuring tool is a bit on the nerdy side.

A bit on the nerdy side? What are you talking about? It's totally nerdy. But it makes for better conversation than simply going with the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart definition of pornography, "I know it when I see it."

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Nerdy describes it pretty well. What is it with you guys that you make a science out of everything? I simply buy the shoes that i like and can afford and do not care what the type of heel is, the heel just has to match the other part of the shoe. 

2 hours ago, mlroseplant said:

GianmarcoLorenziMetal.jpg

A bit on the nerdy side? What are you talking about? It's totally nerdy. But it makes for better conversation than simply going with the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart definition of pornography, "I know it when I see it."

I would not buy or wear shoes like in the picture above, first i am not into platforms anymore, second the heels of the shoes do not appeal to me. Of course other people will go crazy about these shoes. To each her or his own.

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Here in Germany the consensus is a shoe needs a heel height of at least 10cm/4" to be seen as a high heel, a stiletto also needs to have a thin heel.

❤️ my wife in heels (and without ...)

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15 hours ago, HelenInHeels said:

Nerdy describes it pretty well. What is it with you guys that you make a science out of everything? I simply buy the shoes that i like and can afford and do not care what the type of heel is, the heel just has to match the other part of the shoe.

Why? It is probably because I am my father's son. My father is not a scientist, but rather a philosopher. He taught at university for 37 years. Among his students were many of my peers, and over the years, my father became famous for one teaching method in particular: Number One, he would call directly and individually on his students in class, and if you hadn't read your assignment for that day, God help you. Number Two, even if you had read the assignment, and answered his question, after he had listened to your answer, he would often give you that LOOK, and say nothing. After several seconds of silence had gone by, he would ask, "But why, Miz Helen, WHY?" I know English is not your first language, but you have to imagine a Southern U.S. accent when you hear in your head the word "why?" I have heard many of his former students try to imitate his voice over the years. Only I can do it properly, as my voice sounds pretty much exactly like my father's. Eventually, the student would work out what he was trying to teach.

So, in answer to your question, I guess this is my way of trying to answer the question "why?" Rather than just saying, "It is what it is." Why do we find certain things pleasing? To be sure, I do not go through this process when picking out a pair of shoes (or anything else, for that matter), but I do find it interesting to attempt to answer the question "why?" If that makes me a nerd, so be it. I've been one all of my life.

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22 hours ago, HelenInHeels said:

Nerdy describes it pretty well. What is it with you guys that you make a science out of everything? I simply buy the shoes that i like and can afford and do not care what the type of heel is, the heel just has to match the other part of the shoe. 

One of the reasons is I teach science at the university level.  I look at almost everything from a scientific point of view and how I might include it as an example of what we are studying. Yes, I can be nerdy at times.

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I am trying to ignore the suggestions that any analysis along the lines capably outlined by mlroseplant should be 'nerdy', where that term is used pejoratively.   But if it is nerdy, then I for one make no apology for contributing on that basis.

As I see it, the key issue is not so much whether particular types of heel are within the 'stiletto' category but initially more a matter of defining the true stiletto heel, as originally developed, made and so-named in the early 1950s.  We do not need to consider first the question of what is a 'high' heel - a concept independent of shape or proportions but which the consensus suggests is around 4" or more in height - or the existence or otherwise of a platform sole that is not contiguous with the heel itself (as with a wedge).  If so, I do consider that mlroseplant's definition was a fair one, with the thickness, shape and proportions being the critical elements, whilst the height is irrelevant - a kitten heel of 2" or even less with the correct proportions can almost certainly be viewed as a 'low' stiletto heel.   The cross-section of the lower part of the heel can vary from the more traditional 'D' to something more square or rounded, but the overall width/diameter should really be no more than 10mm (3/8") and ideally less, albeit often then with a slightly flared tip (top piece).   The positioning of the heel (e.g. close to the back of the shoe, as so often found these days) does not in my view debar it from being a stiletto, provided that the seating and other proportions remain within bounds, although the purist would likely distinguish it on aesthetic (and wearability) grounds from the 'classic' stiletto.   

On that basis, I find it hard to accept that the 'tubular/rod/spike' heel (as ably illustrated by Isolathor) is truly a stiletto.   Yes, it is very thin but it totally lacks any significant shape in its shank and the seating is reduced.   The example then pictured by mlroseplant is even more extreme (with no discernible seating) and I cannot agree with him that this is a stiletto either.   (I'm sure that Roger Vivier et al would turn in their graves if it was suggested to them that either of these shoes had 'stiletto' heels.)   They are a high 'spike' heel, for want of a better name.   (I tend to regard them as close relatives of a 5" wire nail - and probably just as lethal!)

As to the Casadei blade heel, it is a little different in its proportions but is not nearly as extreme as the 'spike'.   Yes, it is somewhat set-back, has a squarish section and is largely metal, but none of those characteristics debar it and, even when considered together, it still seems to qualify.   And shoes of the 'Wild Pair' type (with a partially metal heel, usually round in section) certainly qualify too.

So, by all means choose and enjoy (or otherwise) the shoes and heels that you like, without worrying about labels.   But let us try to retain and reserve the much-respected 'stiletto' title for those heels that do conform to the original concept.

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43 minutes ago, spikesmike said:

Cali : Do you wear your high heels to class ? Skirts even ?    Mike

I have been wearing heels since 2015 when I discovered that wearing a 4 inch displacement (heel - platform) makes a big difference in my pain level.  I wear heels almost all the time since then.  Wore a skirt for Halloween once, but that's it; its not a gender issue but a pain issue. 

I have over 60 pairs and every one has been worn to work, even my knee high stilettoes.  It's one of my "criteria" for purchases after "does it fit", "can I wear it to work? " 

====

Back to the topic.

Where does "stilettoes wedges" fall in the discussion?  All the same criteria, but in a wedge form.

VSwedges01hh.thumb.JPG.4a7ccb3518e006525f53b54ca8dadeb7.JPG

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5 hours ago, Cali said:

...

Where does "stilettoes wedges" fall in the discussion?  All the same criteria, but in a wedge form.

 

I think the term 'stiletto wedge' is a non sequitur; I assume it was coined simply because the heel on such a shoe is relatively narrow and tapered across its back (and typically high too - but that is irrelevant).   However, as I suggest just above, imho a true 'stiletto' heel cannot be contiguous with the sole, as a wedge clearly is, regardless of its profile.   

Nice sandals, by the way!

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I kind of understand why one would get the urge to coin a phrase like "stiletto wedge," but even if the term were correct, the above example of such shoes would not qualify anyhow. The heel has got to be 3/4" wide, and it has too gradual of a taper, more in the style of a cone heel.  Nice shoes, but they don't really resemble a stiletto in any way. In fact, I have never really seen a wedge in this country that would really fit the bill. I have seen such shoes in Vietnam, where they were somewhat popular for maybe a year. They resemble stilettos, only with the triangular space between the heel and the angled part of the sole filled in with a wedge similar in color and material to the rest of the shoe. Their popularity did not last long, as they have all of the visual heaviness of a wedge (at least from the side) while at the same time retaining most of the disadvantages of a stiletto.

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16 hours ago, Cali said:

Those are vintage Victoria's Secret stiletto wedges. (And yes @spikesmike I have worn them to work.)

I thought I would throw a knuckle ball into this conversation.🙃

I hesitate to ask what a 'knuckle ball is'.   😕

8 hours ago, mlroseplant said:

I kind of understand why one would get the urge to coin a phrase like "stiletto wedge," but even if the term were correct, the above example of such shoes would not qualify anyhow. The heel has got to be 3/4" wide, and it has too gradual of a taper, more in the style of a cone heel.  Nice shoes, but they don't really resemble a stiletto in any way. In fact, I have never really seen a wedge in this country that would really fit the bill. I have seen such shoes in Vietnam, where they were somewhat popular for maybe a year. They resemble stilettos, only with the triangular space between the heel and the angled part of the sole filled in with a wedge similar in color and material to the rest of the shoe. Their popularity did not last long, as they have all of the visual heaviness of a wedge (at least from the side) while at the same time retaining most of the disadvantages of a stiletto.

Do you mean a wedge shoe similar to these below.   Most usually, as you say, with the upper and entire heel in the same material and colour.   I think they are rather elegant and appeal to those women who like a high but more stable heel that is not clumpy.   As single-sole sandals, they were popular in the UK for several years (but not I think for the last 15 or so) but are still around as boots.

image.png.a631612b11f935900c7af8fd511715fd.png                 image.png.70fdab2bc3915348c0ba8b2105187064.png

 

Do you still consider the 'spike' heel (as I described it above) as being a true stiletto - or even a sub-set?   My view remains that it is in a class of its own and does not justify the 'stiletto' label.

 

Edited by Puffer
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41 minutes ago, Puffer said:

I hesitate to ask what a 'knuckle ball is'.   😕

A knuckleball or knuckler is a baseball pitch thrown to minimize the spin of the ball in flight, causing an erratic, unpredictable motion.  Many baseball players have a tough time hitting such a pitch. Very similar to a knuckleball in cricket.

I thought  I would throw a knuckleball (instead of a curve ball) to lighten up this analytical discussion. 

Those vintage Victoria's Secret stiletto wedges were one of my first high heel purchases. Before those I only had 3 inch heels.

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2 hours ago, Puffer said:

 

I hesitate to ask what a 'knuckle ball is'.   😕

Do you mean a wedge shoe similar to these below.   Most usually, as you say, with the upper and entire heel in the same material and colour.   I think they are rather elegant and appeal to those women who like a high but more stable heel that is not clumpy.   As single-sole sandals, they were popular in the UK for several years (but not I think for the last 15 or so) but are still around as boots.

image.png.a631612b11f935900c7af8fd511715fd.png                 image.png.70fdab2bc3915348c0ba8b2105187064.png

 

Do you still consider the 'spike' heel (as I described it above) as being a true stiletto - or even a sub-set?   My view remains that it is in a class of its own and does not justify the 'stiletto' label.

 

Puffer, i love the boots would get a pair if I could ever find one.

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2 hours ago, Cali said:

A knuckleball or knuckler is a baseball pitch thrown to minimize the spin of the ball in flight, causing an erratic, unpredictable motion.  Many baseball players have a tough time hitting such a pitch. Very similar to a knuckleball in cricket.

I thought  I would throw a knuckleball (instead of a curve ball) to lighten up this analytical discussion. 

Those vintage Victoria's Secret stiletto wedges were one of my first high heel purchases. Before those I only had 3 inch heels.

Thanks for the explanation, although I know nothing about cricket so cannot really visualise the concept or make any comparison!

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4 hours ago, Puffer said:

Thanks for the explanation, although I know nothing about cricket so cannot really visualise the concept or make any comparison!

Sorry my bad stereotype, I thought EVERY Brit knew and was required to played cricket in school.  The spin put on a ball when thrown or kicked (soccer) helps to determines the trajectory. "Curve" ball have an arc from their spin.  A knuckleball is a ball throw with no or very little spin. The direction comes from how the wind interacts with the stitches and causes it to be erratic. The name comes from how you grip the ball.

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