Let's Look at Clear High-Heels
A look at the history of clear high-heels: who created the concept, who has worn them best and a look at some stylish, modern designs available now
To me, no one will ever look as good wearing clear high-heels as Marilyn Monroe. She was photographed wearing them many times and brought them into the limelight in the 1953 movie 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'. This set me wondering, when did women first begin to wear clear high-heels? Who designed the concept of the first pair and what were they made of?
Plastic fashion accessories first become popular in the 1920s. At the time, Bakelite jewellery became sought-after. It had been invented in 1907, by Leo Baekeland, but soared in popularity once a range of bright, jewel colours became available in the Roaring Twenties. (decolish.com, no date) Bakelite was mass produced by the 1930s. However, the earliest pair of clear shoes that I can find information about are a pair of 1940's 'Invisible Sandals':
"In her book Shoes: 'A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers & More' author Linda O’Keeffe traced the origins of the modern clear heel to an 'Invisible Sandal' created by Salvatore Ferragamo in 1947." (highheelsdaily.com, no date)
Ferragamo's creation can be seen pictured below. According to The Metropolitan Museum, the heels were made by passing a continuous length of nylon thread "back and forth through holes in the insole to create the upper." (metmuseum.org, no date)
A recreation of Ferragamo's 1947 'Invisible Sandal' can be seen below; I prefer them in black rather than gold. Many of the sizes have now sold out and they have been reduced in price from £1,470.65 to £1,047.83.
Ferragamo was known for his experimentation with innovative materials, and I imagine that the 'Invisible Sandal' must have seemed very original in the 1940s. According to Google Arts and Culture, "The 'sanctions' imposed on Italy after the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 worsened the problems connected with shortages of material and energy resources, and launched the 'autarchic programmes.'" These influences intensified Ferragamo's inventiveness in both visual design and in the technological field. He patented numerous ground-breaking designs including "soles in galalith, glass and other similar materials.' (artsandculture.google.com, no date)
I cannot find exact information about the source of Monroe's clear 1953 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' platforms, but it is interesting to note that Marilyn is known to have owned dozens of pairs of shoes designed by Salvatore Ferragamo. According to British Vogue, "In 2012, the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo held a major retrospective dedicated to Monroe, 50 years after her death, featuring 30 pairs of shoes alongside some of the star’s most famous outfits."(vogue.co.uk, 2022). Whilst I can't see the Lucite platforms in images of the exhibition, I can't help suspecting that Ferragamo designed them. Ferragamo is even associated with the design of the platform shoe as he "pioneered the development of the wedge heel and platform sole in the 1930s."(metmuseum.org, no date)
Ferragamo was highly inventive, and Marilyn Monroe's clear platforms are particularly innovative if you consider the ribbons used to secure them to her feet. Monroe was photographed numerous times while wearing the shoes but with a selection of coloured ribbons. It's possible that she had numerous pairs of the shoes, each with a different colour of ribbon, but I think it looks more likely that the ribbons could be removed and replaced. The image below shoes the platforms secured with yellow ribbons. She was also photographed wearing them with blue, black, white and orange ribbons.
In the 1950s, transparent shoes were made for women with a range of clear plastics including Lucite and vinyl. The Disney movie 'Cinderella' was released in cinemas in 1950 and generated interest in glass slippers. (www.buzzfeednews.com, 2021) Creating shoes with transparent materials allowed for designs that mimicked the appearance and romance of the glass slipper. The advertisement below, taken from the 1956/1957 Alden's catalogue, shows an advertisement for a pair of vinyl Cinderella-style shoes.
The heels in the picture below, which include plastics and rhinestones, show that a wide range of styles were available by the late 1950s. (nyhistory.org, 2018)
Another designer who plays a significant role in the history of clear high-heels is Beth Levine. Levine "patented a method for attaching clear acrylic heels without the use of screws, greatly improving their virtual transparency." (www.metmuseum.org, no date) The 'Girl Crazy Pumps' (pictured below) are made of vinyl, kid leather and Lucite and were created in 1960.
In my opinion, another notable pair of clear high-heels are the pair worn by Debbie Harry in the 1979 'Heart of Glass' music video. These are the first pair of clear high-heeled shoes I ever saw ,and it made me desperately want to own them. Only a couple of glimpses of them can be seen in the video. I love that they are styled with black tights and flowing grey fabric. It looks original and adds an elegance to the look.
In terms of modern perceptions of clear high-heels, the 'stripper heel' stereotype is unavoidable. (www.buzzfeednews.com, 2021) The transparency and height of the shoes has become associated with sexuality. Lisa Wade, a sociology professor, sparked debate when she tweeted that the glass slipper in the 2015 movie 'Cinderella' looks like a "stripper shoe". (hellogiggles, 2014) This shows the strength of the 'stripper heel' stereotype. Surely a woman should be able to wear shoes made of a particular material without being labelled and judged?
With plastic now being mass-produced and the 'stripper heel' association, another modern perception of clear shoes is that they are "tacky". (glamour.com, 2016) This is in stark contrast to when plastic first became popular in fashion; according to Decolish, in the 1920s, Bakelite was viewed with high regard as it "was promoted and worn by such prominent designers as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli and frequently appeared in the pages of Vogue." (decolish.com, no date) In terms of 'tackiness', I think clear heels can be a fun option; I also think it depends on the design of the shoe and what it is worn with.
Clear high-heels became a trend again in the 2010s, and they have continued to be trendy in the 2020s. In 2009, Prada presented a range of clear heels in their S/S 2010 Milan show. These included the "chandelier studded shoe" design shown below. (suddenchic.com, 2020)
Other notable designs during the 2010's included Dior's Fall 2015 boots (pictured below) and Kayne West's Spring 2017 Yeezy designs. (vogue.com, 2017)
Many celebrities have worn clear high-heeled shoes in recent years including Kendall Jenner, Rihanna, Hailey Steinfeld, Victoria Beckham, Kim Kardashian, Kirsten Dunst, Margot Robbie, Drew Barrymore, Christina Ricci and Irina Shayk.
Another issue of modern concern is the environmentally damaging impact of plastics. Buying plastic fashion products second-hand is a method of having variety in what you wear without supporting the generation of new plastic items. I also can't help admiring the glamour of the 1950's clear shoe designs and the innovation that resulted in their creation.
Below are some modern, aesthetically pleasing designs:
Let me know in the comments of any more significant or appealing designs, which of the shared styles you like the most and your opinions on any issues raised. Also, I would love to hear from someone who went to the 'Marilyn' exhibition at Museo Salvatore Ferragamo or knows more about Ferragamo's clear shoe designs.
Non-Linked Images Sources