My high school’s colors were black and white; I never quite fit in there. As my final act of rebellion, I paired my white graduation gown with hot pink, four-and-a-half-inch stiletto heels. As I walked across the stage to receive my diploma amidst a sea of neutrally clad classmates, I was satisfied with the statement that I was making. My heels, both literally and figuratively, were walking me toward a brighter future, a future where I could be myself.

Moments like my graduation aren’t uncommon—many women can attest to the transformative power of a “killer heel.” Ask any woman what shoes she wore for a special event—a job interview, her wedding, that milestone birthday—and she’ll likely respond with a detailed and enthusiastic description. Shoes are accessories that have served as non-verbal communicators for centuries. The messages they send are varying and sometimes contradictory, they’ve embodied wealth, empowerment, objectification, status, sensuality, and much more across centuries and cultures.

Killer Heels—an exhibit I recently visited at the Frick Art & Historical Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.—explores the layers of meaning that surround the high-heeled shoe. From delicate 18th century heels, which originated as fashionable menswear, to modern day Louboutins, which epitomize glamour and status, Killer Heels features a diverse collection of both contemporary and historic heels. The exhibit is organized around six themes—Revival and Reinterpretation, Rising in the East, Glamour and Fetish, Architecture, Metamorphosis, and Space Walk. It engages visitors with stunning designs and immersive videos, encouraging them to delve deeper into the meanings behind an everyday object.

Even if scholarly inquiry into the psychology of fashion isn’t exactly your thing, Killer Heels is guaranteed to give you something new to ponder, along with nearly 150 pairs of gorgeous heels to marvel at. Fashionistas, also be sure to mark your calendars for Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, an exhibition sure to be as enthralling as Killer Heels, coming to The Frick in fall 2017.

1Head Over Killer Heels

Noritaka Tatehana “Atom” 2012-13 Fauz leather. Courtesy of Noritaka Tatehana

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Aperlai. “Geisha Lines” Fall 2013. Leather. Courtesy of Aperlai.

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Rem D. Koolhaas. “Eamz,” 2004 Courtesy of United Nude

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Roger Vivier. “Virgule Houndstooth,” Fall 2014 Courtesy of Roger Vivier, Paris.

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Chau Har Lee. “Blade Heel,” 2010. Perspex, stainless steel, leather. Courtesy of Chau Har Lee.

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Iris van Herpen X United Nude. “Beyond Wilderness,” 2013. Courtesy of United Nude.

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Winde Reinstra “Bamboo Heel,” 2012. Bamboo, glue, plastic cable ties. Courtesy of Winde Reinstra