Captain Moonlight's Notebook: The long and the short and the fall

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The Independent Online
Pictures in the tabloids of women tottering on platform shoes as they tried not to imitate the model Naomi Campbell (below), who fell over in Paris last week, sent me scurrying to John Evelyn's Diary. I remembered that the great 17th-century courtier had observed women promenading in Venice (left) on shoes , with platforms even higher than Campbell's 12-inch ones. The Dames - for only noblemen's wives were allowed this privilege - took maids around with them to keep them upright.

Ascension Week in Venice, 1645, and young John, 25, is taking in the sights: 'Every body at liberty, and jollie: the Noblemen stalking with their Ladys on Choppines about 10 Foote high from the ground. These are high heeld shoos particularly affected by these proude dames, or as some say, invented to keepe them at home, it being so difficult to walke with them, whence one being asked how he liked the Venetian Dames, replyd, they were Mezzo Carne, Mezzo Legno (half flesh and half wood), and he would have none of them. Tis very ridiculous to see how these Ladys crawle in and out of their Gundolas by reason of their Choppines, and what dwarfes they appeare when taken down from their Wooden scafolds.'

By the turn of the century the shoes had come to be associated with prostitutes. After all, for women who spent most of the time standing around outdoors they were supremely practical, keeping their feet and clothing dry when the city flooded.

(Photograph omitted)