I once had the guts to say, “I am going to wear a pair of high heels in 2018”. And now, it seems, the entire fashion industry has followed me. After searching for weeks on the website shoesense.com for heels that didn’t hurt me, I’ve finally gotten my hands on something that felt comfortable – the calf-skin Nike Gazelle Suede ballerina flats (price $90) I just bought from a department store, made the transition from dinner to a business meeting, and feel like I can go for a while without worrying about pain or embarrassment.
I’m not alone in my quest for comfort. In a survey of brands and stores in 2017, 55% of respondents said heels are still an essential part of the fashion world and 83% of those consumers don’t want to give up on their obsession. What’s behind this? O ne partner said “they wanted to feel glamorous”. I also asked my daughter, who is 13, what she wanted her leggings for school, and she texted back: “Dear God, Please make leggings that my mom and I can both wear, without harming each other.”
We can thank German sociologist A Lange (1874-1959) for the modern fixation on comfort. In a survey of nearly 20,000 German women in 1960, she asked participants to reveal what they would do if they were forced to wear simple, non-slip, low-heeled shoes. Fully 74% said they would refuse.
My personal favourite of her nine questions is this one: “How likely is it that the woman you asked would be willing to move closer to the door so a woman more accommodating to her will have to go elsewhere?” Guess what? 91% said they would be willing to move to accommodate a more accommodating woman. A little more than half said they would give up their more comfortable heels, and no more than 9% would let go of their purses. About a quarter said they would wear new shoes with their heels longer, while only 12% would let go of a pair of shoes they’d tried on.
Did you ever see a picture of Grace Kelly in shoes that didn’t hurt her feet? Her wrists weren’t plastered to her ankles. In an interview with 50 years later, Marion Cotillard described how she moved to shoes with flat bottoms, such as the Coach Brian Atwood slogan-heeled flats ($965), she wore in The Young Pope. “I just started to wear them with a heeled ballet flat under them,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I will look so regal in shoes,’ but you just found yourself in a reality that was impossible to resist.” She also said that, having worn heels most of her life, she found the “main, underlying problem” that injured feet had with heels: “You want to move in the heel to keep from hurting your ankle, but that’s incredibly painful and can actually impinge on your functionality as a person.”
The solution is only becoming more obvious. Women are suing Wal-Mart for offensive heels and American Apparel for claims of patent infringement. Beyoncé recently changed her shoe collection to include clear-soled, flexible shoes by British designer Sophie Lee. And perhaps the most famous example of minimal heels is the Tessa Hambrick beauty chair in Assoscee, a mirror in which women can make their toes depress – and in so doing, hurt their feet.