What is a Kitten Heel?

Kitten heels are primarily characterized by their short, stiletto heel that is usually 1.5 inches to 1.75 inches in length. There is also a slight tapered curve at the top of the heel, connecting it to the sole. (1)

History of Kitten Heels

Kitten heels can trace back their primitive roots to the reign of Louis XIV of France in the middle of the 17th century, but it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that the heels dominated the world of female footwear. 

Kitten heels first emerged in the late 1950s as a type of formal fashion wear for young ladies, specifically adolescent girls and girls who were starting to learn how to walk in heels. Interestingly, this is how the heels got their names as they were regarded as training shoes for “little kittens.” 

The kitten heel became widely popular because of its practicality and formal look. In the 1960s, the shoes were particularly popular among teenage girls and trickled into popularity with young adult women thanks to the fashion icons of the time.

The low and sturdy heels were a practical and often a more comfortable alternative to stiletto heels. This caused the kitten heel to eventually become a staple in the shoe wardrobe of various women, especially older women. 

What Are Kitten Heels Made Of?

The heels can be made out of various materials, including patent leather, suede, and durable fabric. Some kitten heels will often have a fabric overlay of lace, satin, silk, and even beading.

One defining feature of kitten heels is that they will often have intricate detailing on them, which will allow them to stand out. Because of this intricate detailing, they are commonly the heel of choice for brides. 

Different Kitten Heel Styles

Classic kitten heels were worn as a slip-on shoe, but there are kitten heel sandals that will often use a back buckle for closure.

The traditional kitten heel featured a closed toe, but today you will find both open and closed toes. In recent times, the kitten heel has morphed to include a variety of styles. They include the following: 

  • Mules will usually have a full coverage pointed toe and may or may not include a buckle over the upper vamp. 
  • Slingbacks are usually reserved for casual and festive outings and may either be slip on or use a back buckle for closure. Slingbacks will often feature a pointed toe as well. 
  • Pumps will come in various style and material options and are versatile to suit a range of outings. 
  • Booties give full coverage for cooler weather and will often be crafted out of faux leather, animal leather, floral and animal prints, and other bold materials. (2)

Who Wore Kitten Heels? 

While the kitten heel was originally designed as a formal shoe choice for young girls, it wasn’t long before the heel transcended age groups. Women who worked in the office or needed a pair of shoes for their Sunday best would often turn to a pair of kitten heels.

Today, kitten heels continue to command a formal presence and are worn by young women in the office setting, on outings around the town, and at formal events. 

Kitten Heels in Pop Culture

Many female icons spanning a variety of industries have helped popularize kitten heels. Audrey Hepburn helped propel the heel’s popularity because they gave off a sophisticated and classy appeal akin to Hepburn herself, while Marilyn Monroe showcased the heel in a playful yet comfortable manner. 

Much more recently, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton have both helped breathe new life into the heels. Designers, including Christian Dior and Manolo Blahnik, continue to reignite interest in the shoe with their season styles. (3)