Gladiator boots consist of one or two vertical straps running up the leg and crossed by a series of horizontal straps that wrap around the foot, ankle, and leg. Unlike other boots, gladiator boots usually are mostly open, like gladiator sandals, that extend up the leg to boot length. Variations of gladiator boots may consist of ankle-high booties to over-the-knee styles. Gladiator boots may have flat heels, high heels, or any height in between. The style received its name because the shoes are reminiscent of the boots worn by combatants of the Roman Empire who fought other gladiators or animals before live audiences.
The gladiator style may have originated with British fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s gladiator sandals that first appeared in 1996. Over the next several years, gladiator-style shoes fell in and out of fashion, finally gaining ground in the early 21st century. Simple sandals had laces that wrapped many times around the foot and ankle, tying at the top. Variations on the gladiator sandal appeared over the next several years, with many styles becoming more extreme.
High-heeled gladiator ankle-high boots with thicker straps and buckles appeared around 2008 after celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Charlize Theron, and Rihanna began making public appearances wearing them. Sex and the City character Carrie Bradshaw wore extreme Dior gladiator platforms in the 2008 Sex and the City movie, sending fans scrambling to buy gladiator heels and designers brainstorming on how to capitalize on the trend.
More extreme versions of the gladiator shoe trend emerged, and gladiator boots appeared in all heights, from ankle to thigh-high. The gladiator style appeared in the lines of high-end designers, like Givenchy and Balenciaga. Discount retailers followed suit, covering all price points and making the style available to the general public.
The gladiator boot is an extreme attention-getting style usually worn with short shorts, mini dresses, or mini skirts to lengthen the leg and highlight the boot, which is typically the focal point of any outfit worn with them. Colors worn with gladiator boots tend to be simple solids or neutrals. Accessories should be simple and kept to a minimum.
Gladiator boots may appear in many variations, but are usually black, brown, or metallic. They may be aggressive, chunky, gothic platforms with metal studs and buckles or more slender, feminine, goddess-style sophisticated forms. Heels may be flat or high, stiletto or platform. Some gladiator boots have diagonal straps that interlace with the horizontal straps, appearing to cross randomly and making a dramatic appearance.