Janet Golden, professor of history at Rutgers University-Camden, wrote this for the "Public's Health" blog on Philly.com
High-heeled shoes, once worn exclusively by rich men and women - thus the term "well-heeled" - are now the topic of public health warnings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists high heels as a falling hazard on its "Prom Health and Safety" tip sheet.
The American Osteopathic Association links high heels to a range of ailments and says constant wear can lead to chronic pain. Information about high heels and health appears on news websites such as the Huffington Post and on medical information websites such as WebMD.
If you've ever worn tight-fitting, hard-to-walk-in shoes, you might have uttered the phrase, "My shoes are killing me." And certainly there's always a chance for a fatal fall while navigating slippery steps in stilettos.
Shoes worn in the workplace are, by contrast, considered protective equipment, along with hard hats, gloves, and safety eyewear.
Shoes can be deadly. Recall the 2001 incident when a terrorist boarded a plane with explosives in his shoes that he intended to detonate during the flight.
That's why we take off our shoes and get them scanned at the airport. (Thankfully, the 2009 "underwear bomber" incident did not lead to full strip searches in airport lines).
During the Victorian era, arsenic dyes used in shoes (as well as in clothing and household items) exposed shoemakers and shoe wearers, along with dressmakers, and just about anyone buying fashionable items made with green arsenic dye, to a deadly chemical.
This episode in fashion history is explained in a new exhibition, "Fashion Victims" at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, and in the book The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play by medical historian James C. Whorton. (A related show, "Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe" is on view at the Brooklyn Museum.)
The Bata exhibition also relates how shoes could be killers for the young boys who worked on the streets as bootblacks.
The shoe polishes they used contained nitrobenzene. It gave a nice shine but exposed the boys - and the shoe wearers - to fumes that could cause fatigue, weakness, dizziness, depressed respiration, coma, and death.
Nitrobenzene is still manufactured and used (even in some shoe polishes) but exposure is uncommon.
The real-life experiences of children trying to earn a living shining shoes were a far cry from the famous fictional account in Horatio Alger's classic 1868 novel, Ragged Dick: Or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks.
Today, shoe manufacturing is a global industry, with China producing the most footwear, followed by India, Brazil, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
Shoe workers still face occupational hazards from machinery and chemicals in their poorly regulated factories. And though children no longer earn a living and support their families by shining shoes in the United States, child labor in overseas shoe factories remains a problem.