A good pair of high heels are essential to any woman’s wardrobe. They may range from Louboutin’s classic red platform heel to a pair of timeless Topshop ankle boots, but there is a heel to suit all characters and occasions. So if heels have such diverse features, why are more and more women opting to wear flat footwear when dressing up to go out? Furthermore, why are some of fashion’s most influential designers shifting focus towards flat shoes on the catwalk?
Since my arrival at university, I have noticed a decline in girls' interests in wearing high heels. But why? Many reasons have been provided to explain this disintegration, the prime excuse being discomfort. Admittedly, the only comfortable encounters I have experienced with my heels have been under the influence, but this has never discouraged me from adding a pair into my indispensable night-time wardrobe. As soon I put on those open-toed Carvela’s, I’m immediately filled with a sense of maturity and femininity which ultimately enhance my body confidence. But for some, the phrase “no pain no gain” has no meaning in this situation. Elizabeth Allen, a first year English and French student at Sheffield University expresses her appreciation for flat shoes: “I have worn flat shoes every time I’ve gone out, bar twice - where I have had to resort to carrying my heels. I think this is probably due to the fact that going out happens more often at university than when at home so the pain which comes with wearing heels is not worth it!”
However, if pain isn’t the issue, there may be other reasons for our time-old adoration of flat footwear. After a summer filled with clubbing holidays and festival going, students have experienced months of a heel-free life favouring flip flops, wellies and plimsolls. Comfortable rather than fashionable footwear has therefore become the norm, with students refusing to convert as the seasons change.
But not every female student has abandoned their intimate relationship with high heels. Jess Barlow, a first year tailoring student at London College of Fashion expresses her everlasting love for the heel: “I think heels are amazing. They do something to a woman’s persona. They affect the way she walks, her height and most importantly, her confidence. The selection of heels available on today’s high street is incredible; it allows the average woman to feel and look like more. Heels should be appreciated for all their value.”
However, Ross Kitcher, a 23 year old model from Southampton, regularly witnesses young women juggling the challenge of walking in heels whilst maintaining a sustainable look and expresses a different view: “In Southampton it’s rare to see a girl in heels who can look natural wearing them. I feel most go for comfort over style these days, which is a shame. I can also tell if a girl is struggling to wear heels and it instantly changes my opinion of them from a strong independent woman to someone who is trying too hard.”
But despite what Ross says, do men really notice the difference if we chose to wear heels or not? As raised in Rebecca Hughes article on “The Psychology of High Heels” in November’s issue, an experiment conducted by Northumbria University revealed that men did not recognise the difference between women that wore heels and those that didn’t. This verifies that despite female philosophy, men really are oblivious to our footwear choices (news which annoys me just as much as it annoys you).
For the London based Scottish fashion designer Christopher Kane, the look of heels is losing its visual appeal: “An ultra-high heel, especially with a mini skirt just looks so old now”. Kane therefore revealed his intentions to restore flat footwear’s former glory in his Spring/Summer 2012 collection, where a variety of metallic sandals were embellished with an Indian beaded finish to add a stroke of delicate femininity.
However, Christopher Kane is not the only British designer focusing on flats in SS12. Following her pregnancy in 2011, Victoria Beckham claims her experiences allowed her to pay more attention to comfort, aiming to design a visual and physical harmony between sustainability and fashion. Victoria’s Spring/Summer collection graced London Fashion Week and presented fashionista’s with a range of ballet style open toe sandals, providing wearers with a stylish but comfortable alternative in the summer season. It appears celebrities are endorsing designer’s efforts to reinstate the importance of flat footwear. Charlotte Olympia, the London Cordwainer’s graduate, has recently released her Kitty shoes collection. Stylish and simplistic, yet full of character, Olympia’s footwear are being strutted about by the likes of Alexa Chung and Sex and the City’s very own Sarah Jessica Parker (even Carrie Bradshaw is opting for flats for her summer wardrobe!).
Unlike most of these designers, who aim to focus on the feminine quality flat footwear can possess, Marc Jacobs presents us with a basic, androgynous design, shown through the two-tone loafers and vibrant hi-tops which appeared within his twenties themed collection at LFW. The idea of colourful footwear has also been revealed through Paul Smith’s vivacious loafers, offering us a more dramatic approach to SS12.
Of course it cannot be denied that heels generate a feeling of authority and confidence, even allowing us to feel as if we are strutting our stuff like female icons such as Beyonce and Rihanna, but the reality is the popularity of heels is down to the consumer: us women. High heels will never be completely extinct, but perhaps for now we should embrace the re-establishment of flat footwear and give our feet a rest.
Images: Paul Smith SS12 on Style.com