Chemmie Squier | Acting Fashion & Beauty Editor | Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Death Of The High Heel

The Death Of The High Heel

The Debrief: So long, old, uncomfortable friend

Ding dong the high heel is dead. The toe-crushing balls-of-your-feet-burning shoe has died. So long gel inserts (practically useless anyway) and multiple plasters; your work here is done. Over the years the mighty heel has fallen; taken over by a barrage of flat, much comfier foot wear. And I’m pretty happy about it. 

During my first year of university, no outfit was complete without a risky pair of platforms. Note that I don’t mean risqué; these shoes were dangerous. Weapons of mass destruction. One false move and a broken neck could have been mine. I remember one night when I was wearing a particularly high pair of platform wedges (I have small feet which makes the sole on platforms extremely small and tottery) and I was, some might say, drunk. Whilst waiting for my post-night out McDonalds, I physically could not stop toppling over and, once on the floor, I couldn’t get up. I’m pretty sure there was crying. It wasn't my proudest moment.

Now you pretty much have to force me to wear anything but trainers or Doc Martens and I'm not the only one. Looking about day to day, you’d be pretty hard pushed to find a woman going about her everyday life in heels when once, it was the Done Thing. It does of course come down to a trend: for the past couple of years designers have been eschewing towering heels in favour of flat footwear. In Chanel’s SS14 Couture collection all 65 models wore trainers and Burberry’s SS15 show saw models strutting in Crayola-coloured trainers. This years biggest trend is the (somewhat impractical IMHO) backless loafer seen at the likes of Gucci (basically the king of loafers), Victoria Beckham, Acne and Balenciaga. On top of that the Miu Miu SS16 collection saw replicas of classic ballet shoes (ankle ties and all), Calvin Klein’s collection was pretty much all trainers and Tommy Hilfiger gave the trainer a whole new look with crochet detailing and sling-backs (which somehow works). The list is pretty much endless.

‘In the past three or four years there’s definitely been a surge in flat shoes in terms of what’s been on the catwalk and what people are actually buying in the shops; I know that a lot of places have seen their sales of flats go through the roof,’ Hannah Rochell, fashion editor who blogs at En Brogue and author of the book En Brogue and The Trainers Guide tells me. ‘There’s certainly less and less heels on the catwalk. Although they are coming back in a little bit now, which I’m scared about!’ But even so, the heels today aren’t the stilettos from back in the day: the midi-block heel is a favourite right now, helping to bridge the gap between staggeringly high and entirely flat shoes. 

The proof is in the numbers too. Stats from Editd show an increase in the number of trainers coming into women’s fashion rising from 1,203 in January 2013 to 3,003 in January 2015. Kurt Geiger tell me that they’ve doubled their sneaker options for SS16 compared to SS15 and other styles like espadrilles, loafers and ballet flats are highlights for them this season. ‘A pair of shoes can totally transform your mood and your shape and you don’t have to have a model’s proportions to fit into them. Heels used to be integral to that transformation, but we are experiencing a liberation with fashion sneakers and feeling just as confident rocking a pair of fashion flats’ says Kurt Geiger Creative Director, Rebecca Farrar-Hockley. 

Notorious heel-wearer Victoria Beckham even wore white Stan Smiths at her AW16 New York show and has been reported saying ‘I just can’t do heels anymore’. Lets not forget the part Sex And The City played in the high-heel hay-day; the women who showed sped around New York in their inappropriate footwear. Which, funnily enough Kristin Davis, who played Charlotte, has basically since apologised for: ‘I do feel guilt about the heels. It did seem we were trying to say to women, "You should be wearing heels like these"', she said in a 2014 Sunday Telegraph interview. The entire fashion industry has taken note of this shift. ‘There was a day when you wouldn’t see a fashion week front row with flats in, ever! And these day’s its all a mix, and people do wear flat shoes,’ says Hannah. Now if there’s not one person rocking Stan Smiths on the FROW, you’ve got to wonder if these people even know what they’re talking about. 

Another change is societies perception of what it is to be ‘womanly’ or ‘feminine’. As lines between traditional ‘male’ and ‘female’ styles of dressing blur and we find ourselves in a time of increased androgyny, the parameters of what fashion means as a woman are flexing. ‘I think women are less bothered about feeling like they have to wear heels or they have to get a blow-dry or look a certain way. It’s kind of all encompassed in one thing, you know, that whole coiffured look, really done make up, that kind of thing,’ says Hannah. Once a woman not wearing heels might have been perceived as looking ‘undone’ and ‘messy’ but now, attending big events like a wedding or a party in flat shoes is pretty normal. There’s also a lot more choice in the type of flat shoes available to women. We all know trainers are king right now, but other styles like brogues and flatforms are opening up the option and according to research by Kurt Geiger, the regions leading the way on flat shoe sales are Yorkshire, Lancashire and London. ‘There’s a lot more choice in the shops –  brands are getting so much better at making really attractive flat shoes. I think a few years ago it was really hard to find anything other than a ballet pump to look smart and feminine, whereas now they’re all doing such a good job with their designs that it’s really a no-brainer.’  

There’s no denying the power associated with the stiletto. A 2013 study found that women wearing high heels were judged to be significantly more attractive than those in flat shoes. On top of that, they found that they ‘ increased femininity of gait including reduced stride length and increased rotation and tilt of the hips’. In a 2014 study they found that men acted more favourably towards women wearing high heels. One researcher commented on the study saying ‘Simply put, they make women more beautiful.’ Which, you don’t need me to tell you, is a horribly antiquated perception but one that is, hopefully, changing. 

The bottom line on all this is comfort: Why put yourself through the pain of high heels when you could get a a shoe that is just as good looking and is flat? ‘I do think that the heels that come back in are going to be more practical and more comfortable. Once you’re used to being comfortable, it’s very hard to go back to being in pain,’ Hannah tells me. Another is the choice involve: power to the women who want to wear heels. The beauty now is that feminity doesn't balance on the very precarious high heel.  

Like this? You might also be interested in:

Whatever Happened To 'Dressing Our Age'?

Here's A Reminder Why Cannes Film Festival's No-Heels Rule Is Total Bullshit

Have We Fallen Out Of Love With Jeans?

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Tags: Fashion So-Called Rules, Shoes