In the 16th century, both men and women loved to wear mules – backless high-heeled shoes. This footwear was the top trend and shoemakers produced really beautiful and highly decorated shoes, true masterpieces. Some would even say mules were too embellished, especially because male mules didn’t differ very much from female mules. Both were adorned with bows, embroidery, prints, beads, buckles, fringe, etc, and had rather high heels.
The style of shoes we call “mules” appeared a long time ago – in Ancient Rome. Since then, such footwear has been favored by some people but it wasn’t extremely popular. Until the 16th century when mules became the vogue and the majority of aristocracy wore them.
Basically, mules regularly appeared and disappeared in fashion since Ancient Rome and up until the 16th century. In the 1500s, they gained great popularity and were seen everywhere – from ballrooms to bedrooms to the streets, etc. This trend remained throughout the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe and America.
French mules from 1710-1729. They used to be very colorful and beautifully decorated. From The Met Museum
And in the early 18th century, mules became common indoor footwear and lost their popularity as street shoes. By the end of the 18th century, the popularity of mule shoes came back but they were usually hidden under the hems of long female skirts, so we seldom see them in the portraits and paintings, which are the most obvious sources of the period fashion trends.
In the 19th century, particularly the 1860s, mules were the footwear typically worn by prostitutes in brothels, so respectable women refrained from wearing them in the public. And this explains why mules went out of style.
Only in the late 20th century, mule shoes returned into fashion and are still a rather common choice for modern women in the warmer season.
European mules from the early 18th century, adorned with embroidery. From The Met Museum
Mules are not the best type of shoes for long walks on unpaved paths or stone pavers because they don’t support the ankle, but they can be rather comfy for walking inside the house, on smooth floors. That’s why mule shoes were a popular choice for bedroom and boudoir footwear for years. Middle-class and high-class men and women often used mules with dressing gowns and similar casual robes. Sometimes, the name “mules” even refers to boudoir slippers without heels, but still, mule shoes are usually backless high-heeled footwear.
Centuries went by and mules still remained in use. Gradually, they turned from chamber shoes into street footwear. We use this style of shoes today as well, although they’re women’s shoes nowadays. And they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.