“Oh my God. My feet are killing me!” This oft repeated phrase is more or less the tag-line for a night out, it’s almost guaranteed that by around about midnight someone will realise they may have overestimated their stiletto tolerance. It’s something of a stereotype: the barefoot girl walking home heels in hand, defeated by her footwear. So why do so many of us continue to suffer through the platform agony? More and more women seem to be asking themselves this question: heels are expensive, painful and often difficult to walk in – far from the most practical footwear solution. Are we finally moving away from the long reign of the skyscraper heel?
Vertiginous footwear has had more than its fair share of cultural attention over the years; the humble heel sparking philosophical, moral and feminist debates, immensely contrasting to the deceptively simple lure of the shoe as a beautiful object. Scholars, shoppers and designers clamouring to explain the seemingly irrevocable lure of the heel have whipped up a storm of attention for the heel. Talk to a feminist, and you are likely to hear one thing ‘high heels objectify women: making them weak and vulnerable.’ While this might seem a little extreme, the point does stand. How often have you seen a girl being supported by her friends as her shoe choice tips from uncomfortable to unbearable? There is a stigma of weakness that can come with heels: girls tottering, bambi-like through the streets hardly suggests empowerment and independence… And this doesn’t seem like something the students of today, girls who are spending their days building their future through hard work, would desire anymore.
However, for every girl defeated by heels, there are plenty more empowered by them, for every late night stumbler there’s a city girl strutting intimidatingly around London exuding authority. For better or worse, heels change the way that you walk and the way you hold yourself, the boost in height providing a boost in confidence, lengthening the legs, perfecting the posture and giving a certain swagger of nonchalance and success. Many people wear heels simply because they think they look better than flats, as heels can change the look of your body and increase your confidence. It’s often said that nothing looks better than confidence, and heels can most certainly give you just that.
It’s not just their physical affect that makes the heel so popular – the highest of high end shoes are more like works of art, intricately architectured pieces of design that are, arguably, more intended for distant viewing than for wearing. Alexander McQueen’s legendary Armadillo Shoe or Christian Louboutin’s 12 inch stiletto ballet pumps seem almost otherworldly in their designs, yet they demonstrate a beauty and passion of design that inspires many to keep shopping for heels. There’s something about the sweep of the sole and the sharp point of the heel that is simply gorgeous in a way that a flat rarely manages to convey, where down on the high street women are drawn to the sleek stilettos and towering platforms.
The power of attraction held by the heel has led to massive hikes in prices; in Topshop for example, you can get hold of a basic pair of flats for around £16, whereas the lowest price heel (a wedge espadrille) would set you back £40 and any basic stiletto is upwards of £50. Beautiful they may be, but when you can’t wear a shoe for more than a couple of hours at a time (and that time is normally after dark) is it worth sacrificing more than a week’s worth of food money? For students, the con’s of heels are pilling higher and higher: not only are they painful and expensive, but they lack relevance for student living. Wear heels on campus and you may get a couple of funny looks: they hardly fit with the immensely casual aesthetic of most students, and sprinting up Portland Hill in platforms when you’re late for a lecture doesn’t seem like a viable option. Nights out are the true territory of the heel, but while they are more aesthetically suited to the dance-floor, wearing a beautiful pair of shoes on a night out can hold its own dangers. It’s a brave, if not a reckless girl who wears brand new heels to Ocean. Sticky floors, spilled Jaeger and suede shoes are not made for each other.
More and more students are opting for flats on nights out, the excitement of glamour giving way to the desire for a good time where this shift can be seen to be emerging in high end fashion as magazines celebrate the return of the flat. At the recent fashion weeks, models took to the catwalk in brogues, ballet flats and trainers, Miu Miu, Nicolas Kirkwood and even Manolo Blahnik are seeing their flats soar in popularity, with designs such as Manolo’s Monk quickly becoming cult classics. Perhaps the surest sign of a change is the news that Victoria Beckham, queen of the skyscraper heel has been spotted more and more often in flats (surprise surprise: her shoe of choice is the Manolo)
Heels might be the night-time footwear of choice for some – especially those on the pull, but when you consider that in flats you can dance the night away and not worry about the agony of the morning after, the heel loses its appeal. In the words of one second year English student: ‘it’s better if you can just be yourself and go batshit crazy on the dance-floor’. So has the reign of the heel truly ended? Are we finally seeing the realities and impracticalities of this long lauded shoe? Maybe we are, and it’s about time too, my feet are killing me.