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Where Did High Heels Come From?

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High heels, though a staple of nearly every woman’s closet these days, aren’t exactly the most reasonably designed footwear. We wobble and slip and turn our ankles on every uneven stone, but refuse to trade them in for more sensible flats and sneakers. Where did these impractical shoes come from?

As discussed in a recent episode of BBC’s The Why Factor, high heels point back to an unlikely source: men. For centuries, high heels were worn as a form of riding footwear, according to Elizabeth Semmelhack of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. The heel helped a rider secure his stance in the stirrups so he could shoot arrows more effectively; this was useful particularly in Persia (modern-day Iran), where the fighting style relied a great deal on good horsemanship.


17th century Persian shoes, made from horsehide and pressed mustard seeds. Image courtesy The Star/Bata Shoe Museum.

In 1599, the Persian shah sent a diplomatic mission to Europe, and an interest in Persian culture and fashion swept Western Europe. Aristocrats took a liking to Persian high-heeled shoes—they were bold, masculine, and perfect for asserting status. When the lower classes caught on and adopted the shoes, the aristocracy simply increased the height of their footwear, in accordance with the social order. They were useless on the cobbled streets of 17th Century Europe, but that was the whole appeal: Privileged men rarely walked anywhere, and ridiculous accessories highlighted their luxurious lifestyles.

Christian Louboutin wasn’t the first to use red soles as a status symbol, either: Louis XIV, King of France, beat him to it by over three centuries. At only 5 feet 4 inches, or 1.63 meters, the monarch boosted his stature with heels—always red, an expensive dye. In the 1670s, Louis XIV issued an edict limiting red heels to members of his court; only the favored few could wear this ostentatious color.


A 1701 portrait of Louis XIV, wearing his trademark red heels. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

How, then, did high heels become part of women’s fashion? Semmelhack offered an explanation to William Kremer of BBC News Magazine:

"In the 1630s you had women cutting their hair, adding epaulettes to their outfits. They would smoke pipes, they would wear hats that were very masculine. And this is why women adopted the heel - it was in an effort to masculinise their outfits."

Eventually, though, the unisex heel branched into a low, stacked heel for men and a slender heel for women, and when the Enlightenment rolled around, men’s dress became more sensible and understated. The distinction between classes was vanishing, and women—seen as silly, vapid, and overly sentimental—became the curators of the high heel and other pretentious, impractical fashions. By 1740, men stopped wearing high heels entirely.

Once functioning as sensible footwear for horseback riding, high heels evolved into stilettos and pumps, impractical but irresistible signifiers of femininity and wealth. Fashion is cyclical, though, and perhaps someday they will be seen as symbols of power and status—and maybe men will reclaim the shoe that they created.

[via BBC News Magazine]

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Big Questions
How Does Autopilot Work on an Airplane?
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How does autopilot work on an airplane?

Joe Shelton:

David Micklewhyte’s answer is a good one. There are essentially a few types of features that different autopilots have. Some autopilots only have some of these features, while the more powerful autopilots do it all.

  • Heading Hold: There’s a small indicator that the pilot can set on the desired heading and the airplane will fly that heading. This feature doesn’t take the need for wind correction to desired routing into account; that’s left to the pilot.
  • Heading and Navigation: In addition to holding a heading, this version will take an electronic navigation input (e.g. GPS or VOR) and will follow (fly) that navigation reference. It’s sort of like an automated car in that it follows the navigator’s input and the pilot monitors.
  • Altitude Hold: Again, in addition to the above, a desired altitude can be set and the aircraft will fly at that altitude. Some autopilots have the capability for the pilot to select a desired altitude and a climb or descent rate and the aircraft will automatically climb or descend to that altitude and then hold the altitude.
  • Instrument Approaches: Autopilots with this capability will fly preprogrammed instrument approaches to the point where the pilot either takes control and lands or has the autopilot execute a missed approach.

The autopilot is a powerful computer that takes input from either the pilot or a navigation device and essentially does what it is told to do. GPS navigators, for example, can have a full flight plan entered from departure to destination, and the autopilot will follow the navigator’s guidance.

These are the majority of the controls on the autopilot installed in my airplane:

HDG Knob = Heading knob (Used to set the desired heading)

AP = Autopilot (Pressing this turns the autopilot on)

FD = Flight Director (A form of navigational display that the pilot uses)

HDG = Heading (Tells the autopilot to fly the heading set by the Heading Knob)

NAV = Tells the autopilot to follow the input from the selected navigator

APR = Tells the autopilot to fly the chosen approach

ALT = Tells the autopilot to manage the altitude, controlled by the following:

VS = Vertical Speed (Tells the autopilot to climb or descend at the chosen rate)

Nose UP / Nose DN = Sets the climb/descent rate in feet per minute

FLC = Flight Level Change (An easy manual way to set the autopilot)

ALT Knob = Used to enter the desired altitude

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

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