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The King's Red Shoes

Updated: Aug 26, 2018

Red is rarely worn accidentally, usually, an individual will wear red attire or shoes for a specific purpose. In the 17th century (1600-1700), the color red in France was equated to power. French history expert Joan DeJean says "red is always a color associated with palaces, with Versailles". During that time, the pigment red required an extensive process to produce, it was manufactured by harvesting a large amount of dried cochineal insect, and Louis XIV infused a little red into every step he took. He was the longest-serving monarch for more than 70 years starting his reign at the age of 4 with authority of divine right. He was surrounded by aristocrats who were in charge of their lands, they were considered small kings in their own lands, and so a later adult king has to be very strategic to govern the aristocrats.


Louis XIV was thought to be very proud of his physical appearance, specifically his legs, wearing the types of fashion to accentuate those legs. Given to color red was a difficult pigment to acquire and an expensive one at that, shoes adorned by this color was befitting a king. And so Louis XIV would often wear red heeled shoes and strict order was decreed that red heels can only be worn by those in the king's favor. Also red heels could only be worn in high court. This was a means of aristocracy control. It can be publicly seen who was out of the king's favor thereby keeping control of very ambitious aristocrats.


Aside from Control, it also signify blood and the power to crush one's enemy. It also signify the superiority of the king, as the king could not be seen wearing dirty shoes. Aside from the powerful meaning of the color, the king's red shoes were to be the tallest, claiming rightful dominance over all others. Following the death of Louis XIV, his great-grandson Louis XV became successor to the throne at age 5. During his rule as an adult, he also continued the tradition of red shoes, high heeled shoes, bringing forth the term Louis XV - this term used to described his style of shoes in the 19th Century. It was also known as the Pompadour Heels. Madam Pompadour was King Louis XV's mistress and also adviser, who also wore higher heeled shoes when it started to become popular with women, as those were previously reserved for men only.


This practice of autocratic rule, portrayed in this kind of fashion continued well after the death of Louis XIV until the French revolution from 1789 to 1799 where flaunting ones' wealth was frowned upon. This practice of red shoes, red heels, high heels were outlawed by Napoleon in an attempt to promote social justice and equality. Later in the 1900's after the French revolution, red pigmented shoes resurfaced with women as primary wearers, but the status of wealth, luxury and opulence it initially portrayed persisted.


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