It’s hard to imagine what classical Greek theater has to do with the disco phase of the 1970s and early 1980s. There is one thing that definitely connects the two: the platform shoe. In Greek theater, important lead characters often wore shoes that were elevated with a heavy sole so that the character’s integral role was emphasized. Appearing taller helped achieve this effect.
Throughout history, many cultures have made use of some form of platform shoe. In some cases, an elevated shoe with a wide base protected feet or skirts from mud. Men who wished to appear taller frequently appeared in heels. Much later, fashions of the 1970s and 1980s took cues from Grecian, Roman, European, and Japanese styles, and the platform shoe burst onto the disco scene as the ultimate fashion accessory to bellbottom pants.
Platform shoes have a wide, high sole that elevates the feet by several inches, instead of the traditional thin sole that most shoes tend to have. In platform shoes, both the toe and heel are usually elevated. The entire sole of the shoe can be completely elevated, having a rubberized or cork bottom, or merely the toes and heels have a platform base. Heel sections are generally quite wide.
In some shoes, this elevation provided greater stability. Brands like Famolare’s were famous for their rippled rubber sole on simple loafers. In others cases, platform shoes were extremely hard to walk on, making even the highest stiletto seem like a slipper in comparison. Exceptionally high platform heels and toes were easily the cause of many a sprained ankle, since the foot could quickly turn sideways even while walking on even ground. Dancing in platforms could be even more of a challenge, though many women perfected the art.
If you’d like to reminisce about platform shoes, look no further than the 1970s classic film Saturday Night Fever. In the film, platform shoes abound, and are worn by both women and men. John Travolta’s white dance shoes are an excellent example of men’s platform shoes.
Some types of platform shoes never really went out of style after the 1970s. A slightly raised platform covering the whole sole is still popular in casual sandals and loafers. Extra rubber gave a little more spring to the step, and you can still find many nurse's shoes with an inch or two of platform, which helps cushion feet during long work shifts. As a fashion statement in the 1980s, platform shoes gave way to the retro 1940s/1950s pointy-toed heels.
Men, for the most part gave up on “elevator shoes” which gave them a few more inches in height. Yet fashion has a way of returning, and platform shoes enjoyed another famous moment in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Especially with many of the 1970s fashion styles back for a retread, platform shoes were featured not only in dress shoes, but also on boots, and loafers. One episode of America’s Top Model featured a challenge for the competitors walking in “extreme” platform shoes. Most of the women tripped and staggered up the runway, and one girl even sprained a toe.