Following a tradition I began several years ago, I’m once again encouraging women to declare their independence this July 4th and abandon wearing high-heeled shoes.
I’ve revised this post in light of changes that have taken place during the past year and a couple of new ideas I want to pass along.
My newly revised post follows:
I’ve long maintained that high heels are killers. I never used that term literally, of course. I merely viewed high-heeled shoes as distinctly uncomfortable and an outrageous concession to the dictates of fashion that can lead to both pain and permanent damage to a woman’s body.
A few years ago, however, high heels proved to be actual killers. The Associated Press reported that two women, ages 18 and 23, were killed in Riverside, California, as they struggled in high heels to get away from a train. With their car stuck on the tracks, the women attempted to flee as the train approached. A police spokesman later said, “It appears they were in high heels and [had] a hard time getting away quickly.”
During the past two years, largely dominated by the global pandemic, many women and men adopted different ways to clothe themselves. Sweatpants and other comfortable clothing became popular. [Please see my post, “Two Words,” published July 15, 2020, focusing on pants with elastic waists.]
In particular, many women abandoned the wearing of high heels. Staying close to home, wearing comfortable clothes, they saw no need to push their feet into high heels. Venues requiring professional clothes or footwear almost disappeared, and few women chose to seek out venues requiring any sort of fancy clothes or footwear.
But as the pandemic began to loosen its grip, some women were tempted to return to their previous choice of footwear. The prospect of a renaissance in high-heeled shoe-wearing was noted in publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. In a story in the Times, one woman “flicked the dust off her…high-heeled lavender pumps” that she’d put away for months and got ready to wear them to a birthday gathering. According to the Times, some are seeking “the joy of dressing up…itching…to step up their style game in towering heels.”
Okay. I get it. “Dressing up” may be your thing after a couple of years relying on sweatpants. But “towering heels”? They may look beautiful, they may be alluring….
BUT don’t do it! Please take my advice and don’t return to wearing the kind of shoes that will hobble you once again..
Like the unfortunate young women in Riverside, I was sucked into wearing high heels when I was a teenager. It was de rigueur for girls at my high school to seek out the trendy shoe stores on State Street in downtown Chicago and purchase whichever high-heeled offerings our wallets could afford. On my first visit, I was entranced by the three-inch-heeled numbers that pushed my toes into a too-narrow space and revealed them in what I thought was a highly provocative position. If feet can have cleavage, those shoes gave me cleavage.
Never mind that my feet were encased in a vise-like grip. Never mind that I walked unsteadily on the stilts beneath my soles. And never mind that my whole body was pitched forward in an ungainly manner as I propelled myself around the store. I liked the way my legs looked in those shoes, and I had just enough baby-sitting money to pay for them. Now I could stride with pride to the next Sweet Sixteen luncheon on my calendar, wearing footwear like all the other girls’.
That luncheon revealed what an unwise purchase I’d made. When the event was over, I found myself stranded in a distant location with no ride home, and I started walking to the nearest bus stop. After a few steps, it was clear that my shoes were killers. I could barely put one foot in front of the other, and the pain became so great that I removed my shoes and walked in stocking feet the rest of the way.
After that painful lesson, I abandoned three-inch high-heeled shoes and resorted to wearing lower ones. Sure, I couldn’t flaunt my shapely legs quite as effectively, but I nevertheless managed to secure ample male attention.
Instead of conforming to the modern-day equivalent of Chinese foot-binding, I successfully and happily fended off the back pain, foot pain, bunions, and corns that my fashion-victim sisters often suffer in spades.
Until the pandemic changed our lives, I observed a trend toward higher and higher heels, and I found it troubling. I was baffled by women, especially young women, who bought into the mindset that they had to follow the dictates of fashion and the need to look “sexy” by wearing extremely high heels.
When I’d watch TV, I’d see too many women wearing stilettos that forced them into the ungainly walk I briefly sported so long ago. I couldn’t help noticing the women on late-night TV shows who were otherwise smartly attired and often very smart (in the other sense of the word), yet wore ridiculously high heels that forced them to greet their hosts with that same ungainly walk. Some appeared to be almost on the verge of toppling over.
Sadly, this phenomenon has reappeared. On late-night TV, otherwise enlightened women are once again wearing absurdly high heels.
So…what about the women, like me, who adopted lower-heeled shoes instead? I think we’ve been much smarter and much less likely to fall on our faces. One very smart woman who’s still a fashion icon: the late Hollywood film star Audrey Hepburn. Audrey dressed smartly, in both senses of the word.
I recently watched her 1963 smash film Charade for the eighth or tenth time. I especially noted how elegant she appeared in her Givenchy wardrobe and her–yes–low heels. Audrey was well known for wearing comfortable low heels in her private life as well as in her films. [Please see my blog post: https://susanjustwrites.com/2013/08/08/audrey-hepburn-and-me/….]
In Charade, paired with Cary Grant, another ultra-classy human being, she’s seen running up and down countless stairs in Paris Metro stations, chased by Cary Grant not only on those stairs but also through the streets of Paris. She couldn’t have possibly done all that frantic running in high heels!
Foot-care professionals have soundly supported my view. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, a heel that’s more than 2 or 3 inches makes comfort just about impossible. Why? Because a 3-inch heel creates seven times more stress than a 1-inch heel.
A few years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle questioned a podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon who practiced in Palo Alto (and assisted Nike’s running team). He explained that after 1.5 inches, the pressure increases on the ball of the foot and can lead to “ball-of-the-foot numbness.” (Yikes!) He did not endorse wearing 3-inch heels and pointed out that celebrities wear them for only a short time, not all day. To ensure a truly comfortable shoe, he added, no one should go above a 1.5-inch heel. If you insist on wearing higher heels, you should limit how much time you spend in them.
Before the pandemic, some encouraging changes were afoot. Nordstrom, one of America’s major shoe-sellers, began to promote lower-heeled styles along with higher-heeled numbers. I was encouraged because Nordstrom is a bellwether in the fashion world, and its choices can influence shoe-seekers. At the same time, I wondered whether Nordstrom was reflecting what its shoppers had already told the stores’ decision-makers. The almighty power of the purse—how shoppers were choosing to spend their money–-probably played a big role.
The pandemic may have changed the dynamics of shoe-purchasing, at least at the beginning. For the first year, sales of high heels languished, “teetering on the edge of extinction,” according to the Times. Today, the pandemic may be a somewhat less frightening presence in our lives, and there are undoubtedly women who will decide to resurrect the high heels already in their closets. They, and others, may be inspired to buy new ones.
I hope these women don’t act in haste. Beyond the issue of comfort, let’s remember that high heels present a far more serious problem. As the deaths in Riverside demonstrate, women who wear high heels can be putting their lives at risk. When they need to flee a dangerous situation, high heels can handicap their ability to escape.
How many needless deaths have resulted from hobbled feet?
Gen Z shoppers can provide a clue to the future. They largely eschew high heels, choosing glamorous sneakers instead–even with dressy prom dresses.
My own current faves: I wear black Sketchers almost everywhere. I occasionally choose my old standby, Reeboks, for serious walking. [In my novel Red Diana, protagonist Karen Clark laces on her Reeboks for a lengthy jaunt, just as I do.] And when warm temperatures dominate, I’m wearing walking sandals, like those sold by Clarks, Teva, and Ecco.
The Fourth of July is fast approaching. As we celebrate the holiday this year, I once again urge the women of America to declare their independence from high-heeled shoes.
If you’re currently thinking about returning to painful footwear, think again. You’d be wiser to reconsider.
I encourage you to bravely gather any high heels you’ve clung to during the pandemic and throw those shoes away. At the very least, keep them out of sight in the back of your closet. And don’t even think about buying new ones. Shod yourself instead in shoes that allow you to walk in comfort—and if need be, to run.
Your wretched appendages, yearning to be free, will be forever grateful.
[Earlier versions of this commentary appeared on Susan Just Writes and the San Francisco Chronicle.]