Browse all

The one thing Kim Kardashian and Helen Mirren have in common? Their stripper heels

Strip clubs' signature footwear has become mainstream

The one thing Kim Kardashian and Helen Mirren have in common? Their stripper heels Strip clubs' signature footwear has become mainstream

A few months ago it was Versace pumps, today it's Valentino platforms. This season's It Shoes, proposed in endless variations by influencers and celebs, on Instagram and the red carpet, boast common elements: a vertiginous heel and an equally high platform. Before the Paris catwalks, however, the success of this type of footwear was closely linked to the aesthetics of strip clubs and the uniform of its best-known employees. 

Among the criticism and controversy that the look sported by Kim Kardashian at the last Met Gala unleashed, many focused on the shoes worn by the reality star. To the originally Marylin Monroe gown, in fact, Kim K matched a pair of stripper heels, vertiginous platforms with a see-through heel and platform. This wasn't the first time the Skims founder has chosen this type of shoe, but to many it seemed wrong, almost offensive, to pair the heels historically associated with strip clubs with a piece of American history. However, the choice, at least from a practical point of view, was justified: the dress was in fact too long, and unable to alter it, Kardashian opted for a discreet shoe, to be hidden under the hem of the dress. Beyond the judgments, it's interesting to note that stripper heels have become part of the language of contemporary fashion. Whether for an aesthetic quirk or a practical function, they now occupy a rightful place on the steps of the Met, and beyond. 

Before turning transparent and prohibitively high, stripper heels were simple platform shoes that originated as far back as 15th-century Venice, where they were synonymous with the aristocracy. It was in the 1930s, particularly in Hollywood, that the fashion for shoes made of a heel and a separate platform began to take hold. With the advent of fetish photography, platforms became part of the uniform of pin-up girls, who wore them with corsets, exposed lingerie, and fishnet stockings. Later, the transparent heel and platform version began to spread, and it seems that Cinderella is the one to blame. Disney's animated film, released in 1950, caused a transparent slipper fever. Marylin Monroe herself wore a pair in the 1953 film How to Marry a Millionaire. Beginning in the 1970s, platforms stopped being the preserve of women's fashion, contaminating the wardrobes of stars such as David Bowie, Elton John, and Marvin Gaye. The work of Jean-Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, and Gianni Versace helped bring the stylistic and visual codes of fetish and sex into the mainstream, even making the way for what we know today as stripper heels. 

Finally, from the 1990s to the present, strip clubs have stood out as a proliferation ground for this footwear, whose shape and structure would ensure a certain comfort even after ten hours spent on a stage dancing. Besides Kim Kardashian, there are many stars who love to wear stripper heels. From Lady Gaga, who drew inspiration from the queer and drag world, especially early in her career, to Helen Mirren, who wears them for simple reasons of height, as she has explained, passing through Beyoncé and Cardi B, who really worked as a stripper. 

Especially in recent years, a kind of reappropriation and eradication of these shoes' identity has taken place, called upon to represent a new female present, entering fully into the imaginary (and closet) of strong, independent, and unapologetic women. Films such as Hustlers helped make stripper heels part of mainstream culture - concurrently with the spread of pole dancing as a sport in its own right - fueling an unprecedented narrative of the stripper profession. Today, in fact, it's no longer a source of shame, but of pride, as proved by the dozens of women who on TikTok recount the secrets (and earnings) of this job. 

The fashion industry noticed this shift early on and made it its own. Whether by Saint Laurent, Valentino, or Versace, the season's most desired platforms are inspired by this imagery, updating or toning it down. The pumps are proposed in feminine, soft, or bright colors, thus more chaste and bon ton, or in dark tones and shiny patent leather, in a clear reference to the BSDM world from which designers have often taken their cues. And if it's true that fashion has entered its villain era, as Véronique Hyland wrote in Elle USA, stripper heels are definitely part of this transition, alongside dresses with cutouts, corsets, and Helmut Newton-inspired miniskirts. Even without towering platforms, which were once used to keep tip money, the PVC and iconic see-through details of stripper heels adorn some of the best-selling and most sought-after shoes of the past few months. Think of Amina Muaddi heels, Aquazzurra mules, Mach & Mach viral pumps, or Stuart Weitzman sandals

Today, stripper heels are called upon to live up to a new female archetype, sexy, confident, strong, and independent. The transformation can only begin from the shoes.