Research

Stilettos: the quintessential fetish object

by Daryl Champion

Stiletto heels are, arguably, the quintessential fetish object, the point at which popular culture, high fashion and fetishism intersect. We are not talking about “high heels” in a general sense, although they, too, occupy a revered place in the canon of foot, shoe and boot fetishists. “Stiletto” is the diminutive of the Italian word for “dagger”, stilo; thus, stiletto: “little dagger”. It is from the Latin stilus, for “pointed instrument”. To earn the designation of stiletto, the dagger must possess a narrow, slender blade, thick in proportion to its width. It is a lethal weapon designed specifically for stabbing, not cutting.

Little imagination is needed to see why the term “stiletto” is applied to a particular style of high heel: those that are narrow, often long, and taper to an extremely small base. Fashion historian Caroline Cox, in her book Stiletto, draws attention to “the association between death and the piercing quality of the stiletto knife and shoe” by pointing out that “[t]here’s even a surface missile named after it, the Raytheon Stiletto… Not for nothing

do we refer to a pair of stilettos as killer heels”. We should not be surprised, then, that heels have, in fact, killed.1

One can easily appreciate the application of “killer heels” to stiletto-styled heels, although the term has assumed cliché status and is often applied where a heel is not literally named after an instrument of death and, indeed, where the laws of physics tell us there is no real possibility of a woman dispatching an undesirable male with a quick, sharp thrust of the heel through the rib cage or the eye socket.

Let us ponder this latter possibility. It stands to reason the smaller the surface area upon which any given weight is concentrated, the greater the pressure exerted on that surface area. Accordingly, the weight of a very modestly proportioned human being – here recognising that men of certain predilections are also partial to wearing dangerous heels – concentrated in the tip of a stiletto heel can be equivalent to approximately forty atmospheric pressures, or, in another

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