Off With Their Heels

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Rebecca Willis ponders the eternal question of why (some) women wear high heels:

We’ve heard it all before and it is, of course, a conundrum. Women say they feel empowered in heelsperhaps because they can look men in the eyewhen in reality they are physically handicapped by them. A lot of ink has been spent over the years trying to explain why we still wear them. To summarise: a high heel is sexual, changing the way we move, signalling passivity and availability. It’s misogynist, rendering women decorative and in need of a strong arm to hold. It’s a sign that we’ve escaped the prison of domesticityhave you tried doing housework in heels? And it’s a status symbol, as tallness is associated with privilege and good nutrition. Even so, many women, women with brains enough to understand that feet are a feminist issue, still want to wear heels. The long view may be that we’re going through a patch of cultural turbulence, but the close-up is that we really want that sense of lift. So for now let’s accept the existence of that desire, however ideologically unsound it may be. …

You have only to go to the chemist’s and stand in front of the shelves of gel insoles, corn pads, blister plasters and heel grips to see that footwear can be torture. And women are more tortured than men: according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, women are two to four times more likely to have hallux valgus (that’s bunions to you and me) and four to five times more likely to have hammer toes. If we could make ourselves immune to fashion and novelty, we’d be better off spending our money on a couple of custom-made pairs of shoes rather than lots of the off-the-shelf, one-shape-fits-all variety.

But what if this question is not, in fact, eternal? In a piece accompanied by a sketch by Konstantin Kakanias of fashion’s A-list in their preferred flats, Sadie Stein (NYT) announces a new, hobble-free era:

Today, all the old tropes and even the recent ones (Birkenstocks, Tevas, shower sandals) have been taken out of the box and made to look fresh and new. You can find driving moccasins, once an icon of staid WASPiness, bristling with ironic attitude, deck shoes in the farthest reaches of Brooklyn.

In the summer heat, urban women resembled Greek goddesses in strappy sandals. On runways from Marc by Marc Jacobs to Chanel, the look was bright sneakers and flat boots. Rather than teetering to their town cars, top fashion editors and stylists were suddenly able to hop on Citi Bikes or toodle through the Tuileries. From Lanvin’s laceless oxfords to the Row’s crocodile brogues, Marni’s tasseled loafers to riffs on Dr. Martens at Céline and Alexander McQueen — these are shoes you want to walk in. Nothing could feel more grown-up right now.

So, could this be it? If Fashion says heels are done, does that mean the next big thing will be higher heels than ever before? Most likely. But as a short, shoe-loving woman who was avoiding heels before it was cool, I vote for the flat-shoe trend to go on indefinitely (oxymoronic as that wish may be).