History of Knives: Italian Stilettos

history of knives - Italian stiletto

Having an Italian stiletto in hand can elevate your status from ordinary to classy in an instant. Without a doubt, stilettos are a well-known and respected type of knife, and they’re also extremely iconic, but this status didn’t simply crop up overnight. The Italian stiletto has been around for quite some time, but do you know much the history of knives, specifically stilettos? If not, it’s about time you learned! Here’s a quick glance at the history of the Italian stiletto and how it gained popularity.

The Birth of the Italian Stiletto

The Italian stiletto dates back to the late 1400’s if you can believe it. However from what I’ve seen, the stilettos from the 1400’s are a little different than the knives that probably come to mind for you today when you think of a stiletto. Italian stilettos today are typically automatic knives, but as you can imagine, they weren’t automatic several hundred years ago. Rather, they were fixed blades with the same thin, pointy blade shape you’ve come to associate with stilettos.

The research I found shows that the stiletto originated in Italy, which you may have already guessed since they are often referred to as “Italian Stilettos.” The word “stiletto” comes from comes from the Latin word “stilus,” as in a stylus, pencil, or iron pen. These writing tools were thin and pointy, just like the blade shape you find on stiletto knives.

They gained popularity in the Middle Ages when knights used them as weapons. Due to their pointy tips and often unsharpened edges, stilettos were typically used for stabbing, not for cutting or slashing. Knights wouldn’t necessarily use stilettos to fight off opponents, but they would use them secondary weapons to finish off injured opponents.

The stiletto didn’t find its way to America until the mid-1800s. They made their big debut in New Orleans, thanks to immigrants who brought stilettos with them from Italy. The Italian stiletto lost and regained popularity many different times through the years, but the most recent occurrence was in the 1950’s. Around this time is when the automatic version of the stiletto we all know and love became popular.

A little help from the big screen

I suspect that movies have helped somewhat with the popularity and recognition that Italian stilettos have reached today. I’m betting that most of you have seen a couple of these movies:

West Side Story

A lot of you probably had to read had the privilege of reading West Side Story at some point in your scholastic career. The movie came out in 1961—shortly after the Italian stiletto started gaining momentum again in the United States. The knife pictured below from the movie actually appears to be a Lever Lock.





If you read my post on Types of Italian Knives, then you already know that Lever Locks are a type of Stiletto. Though they’re slightly different than the classic, elongated stiletto, they still helped to rekindle the excitement of stiletto knives.


If you never got acquainted with West Side Story, I’ve got a hunch that you’ve at least seen the movie Gladiator. This movie has a stiletto in it:


Stilettos are like the suit and tie of the knife world. They’ve got lots of history behind them, and probably lots more to come.

What is your favorite stiletto to date? If you’re in the market for a new Italian stiletto, be sure to head on over to Grindworx to check out the great selection at your fingertips!

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