Tall Tales: The Great Heel Myth

06/07/2011 18:24 | Updated 22 May 2015

The heels vs flats debate has rumbled on as long as fashion writers have had credit card bills to pay off (presumably accrued buying shoes). This debate tends to focus on why women love high heels and speculates on when they will (inevitably) be usurped in our hearts and shoe racks by their more grounded counterparts.

But while flats have won the odd battle (Alexa Chung's Russell & Bromley loafers spring to mind), it's heels that win the war. After all, when did you last hear a woman coo over nice pair of sensible brogues? Even Alexa's had to retract battle ground; on the autumn 2011/12 catwalks everyone from Marc Jacobs to Philip Lim to Yves Saint Laurent gave her beloved penny loafers a chunky four-inch heel boost.

The truth is that high heels possess certain undeniable virtues that trump transient trends; they make women look slimmer, taller, and even feel sexier and more powerful. They are wonderfully accessible and fit regardless of a woman's shape, size and age (provided that your knees are in good nick). The average woman might look slightly incongruous in one of Miuccia's banana-emblazoned dress, but any woman can feel fabulous in a pair of Prada platform Mary Janes.

Of course there are injuries to contend with, but despite the blisters, bunions, corns, calluses, fallen arches, hammer toes and arthritis, high heels remain a habit that's hard to kick. No one knows this more than Hollyoaks star Jennifer Metcalfe, who ended up in a wheelchair after wearing six-inch stilettos to the races last month. Heels have long been symbols of feminine irrationality, regarded as immobilising shackles to womankind that are bracketed alongside cinching wasp corsets and hobble skirts. They signify a life where action is replaced by ornamentally.

But the unspoken truth about the modern woman's love of high heels is this: they rarely get worn. Instead of reducing women to inactive ornaments, we have come to treat them as decorative ornaments that find homes under our desks or still pristine and unworn in their shoebox. This mind-set was taken to its logical conclusion in the form of Christian Louboutin's recently unveiled eight-inch ballet pointe stilettos; aesthetically impressive, but totally and utterly unwearable.

Proof: heels spend the majority of their days unworn (although definitely not unloved). Photo: MyDaily

A (highly scientific) survey amongst female in our offices reveals that there is a plethora of heels in the building; it's just that no one is wearing them. The average value of clothing bought by UK women that have never been worn is estimated at £13,000, according to figures from Prudential. I would wager that high heels make up the lion's share of this amount .

My colleagues tell me that they keep their heels under their desk in the office for the occasions when they need to look smart for a client meeting or an interview or they are going out after work. But they are getting to work in flats. After all, rare is the woman who can negotiate the tube during the London rush-hour or take their children to school in a towering stiletto.

So why do we keep buying them, using goldfish-worthy memories to blot out the uncomfortable reality? Each season the fashion industry cunningly concocts more and different versions, and each season we fall for them hook, line and sinker. They represent the fantasy of a woman that we want to be, but our lifestyles have evolved past a point where we can wear them for more than a few of hours. It's not just about an outdated idea of Betty Draper femininity, it's also about power in the modern workplace that enables women feel strident and to look their male colleagues squarely in the eye.

I'm not suggesting that we should revert to stout German doctor-approved footwear, but maybe it's time to acknowledge and embrace this quirk in rational thinking. As women's roles have evolved, heels have evolved to become a kind of psychological battle weapon - something to have in your arsenal but not necessarily wear. Why the shame in wearing a pair of ballet pumps to work and switching to heels if they make you feel good? What's needed is a tiny reality check . High heels make an impact - but maybe it's time to stop buying endless versions of them. Much better instead to acknowledge and invest in the footwear that we spend 99% of our days wearing.

And anyway, what better excuse is there to buy a pair of Chanel ballet pumps?


Suggest a correction