Brief History of The Wedge Heel Shoe for Women

June 2, 2023 By Isabelle Sophie Martinet

The wedge heel shoe for women made its debut in the world of fashion in 1938. It was originally designed and created by the Italian shoe designer, Salvatore Ferragamo, who became well-known for his visionary and classic designs in women’s shoes. Farragamo gained his reputation as a shoe and boot designer in the film industry in the 1920’s. As a result of his innovative designs and the quality of his shoes, he was commissioned by both male and female film stars to make shoes for both on-screen performances and personal use. Because of the popularity of his shoes in Hollywood, he became known as “Shoemaker to the Stars”.

Although his shoes were popular amongst the hollywood elite, they were not comfortable. To solve this problem, he enrolled in the Los Angeles University to pursue studies in anatomy, mathematics and chemical engineering. He applied his studies to the design of his shoes and broke away from the way shoes were traditionally made and designed, and began making his shoes, both innovative in design and comfortable to wear. The popularity of his shoes expanded internationally, but the overwhelming demand for his shoes and the inability to meet that demand without the aid of qualified personnel, forced him to returned to Italy. Upon finding qualified personnel in Florence, one of the centers of the Italian shoe industry, he opened a shop of his own and began to expand the production of his shoes.

In the late 1930’s, a shortage of leather and rubber, traditional materials used in shoe making, developed due to the war. Ferragamo began experimenting with non-tradition materials such as straw, felt, cork and wood and incorporate them in designing his brand of shoes. As a result of his experimenting with these non-traditional materials, he created his most noted designs, the wedge and cage heel shoe. He produced the wedge heel with wood or cork as the platform support of the shoe. The cork platform became the most popular because of its lightness in weight and durability. Women, of his era, found the wedge heel much easier to walk in than shoes with a narrower heel and bought this style of shoe, not only for its style but for its support of the foot and the comfort it afforded in walking. Within 2 years of its introduction to the world of fashion, the wedge heel became a classic and popular design in women’s shoes internationally.

His original design of the wedge heel made no distinction between the heel and the rest of the shoe, except for the back and the instep of the foot being elevated above the toe of the shoe. It offered a triangular platform on which the food rested that extended from the heel of the foot to the middle or the front of the foot. Today the original design of both his platform and regular wedge heel shoe have evolved into a more defined heel on some styles, cut out platforms, straps and strapless shoes, with varied ornamentation. The wedge heel today offers more variety in colors and materials in is constructed with heels ranging from one inch to over 4 inches in height. Shoe sizes now run the gamut of small to extra large and women of different stature and walks of life wear this classic style of platform shoe for both style and comfort

The platform shoe has been worn in many culture’s, prior to the 20th century, but Farragamo’s innovative design of the wedge heel reintroduced the platform shoe to the world of fashion. His visionary ideas ranged from the bizarre to subtle designs worn everyday by women and served as inspiration for other footwear designers of his time. Today, his company is still known for its classic and visionary designs in women’s shoes.

The wedge heel shoe has become a classic and fashionable style of shoe for women of all ages and remains as popular as it was in the 1930’s. Whether Ferragamo’s intentions were to have his design of the wedge heel shoe extend into the different genres of shoe fashion or not, it has become a versatile shoe that can be worn with almost any style of clothing. Wedge heels, today, are sold as formal, dress and casual shoes. It is a shoe that has shown its continual defiance of fashion trends and has spanned the test of time.