What goes up must come down — even in women’s footwear.
Not long ago, high heels soared to such unreasonable heights that women could hardly walk in them. Even Lady Gaga took a tumble while wearing her 12-inch spikes. In the real world, where few fashionistas have a team of bodyguards to break a shoe-induced fall, the average woman put her foot down.
Market research company NPD reports that while flat-shoe sales are growing, heel sales have taken a hit. Now, in closets around the country, sky-high stilettos are being replaced by the flattest flats.
“Today’s lady can’t be dictated,” says designer Stuart Weitzman, whose best-selling shoe is the functional 5050 boot, with its 1¼-inch heel. “[A woman’s] independence in wanting to wear what [she] wants to wear, and the comfort factor, the cool factor of a flat . . . are the principal reasons why we sell four times as many flats as high heels.”
Comfort is certainly having a moment. This winter, iconic shoemaker Manolo Blahnik voiced a desire for a pair of L.L. Bean boots (the rugged shoe once worn strictly by New England’s wintery outdoorsmen) to navigate Manhattan’s slushy streets. Even Sarah Jessica Parker, our beloved Carrie Bradshaw who kicked Manolo sales through the roof, has traded in her heels for more foot-friendly gear. In a 2013 interview, the “Sex and the City” star relayed a message from her podiatrist: “He said, ‘your foot does things it shouldn’t be able to do. That bone there . . . you’ve created that bone. It doesn’t belong there.’ ”
The physical maladies associated with heels go beyond throbbing toes and raw blisters.
“It really is impossible to wear even 4-inch heels for an extended period of time, and not end up with lasting injuries,” says Manhattan-based podiatrist Suzanne Levine, who sees frequent, severe ankle injuries from women falling off their shoes.
“With each step you take, you’re putting a lot of weight on the ball of the foot and you start losing the cushioning,” Levine says. “You end up with neuromas, stress fractures, problems in all the weight-bearing joints, and inflammatory conditions.”
Lauren Sherman, editor of Fashionista, recently exiled heels from her wardrobe after years of discomfort, awkward hobbling, and a nasty ankle sprain. And she’s not alone. During Fashion Week, Sherman spied athletic flats on the feet of fashion’s top editors.
“Ninety-five percent of the time, you don’t need the heel to look elegant or chic or put together,” Sherman says. “You just have to make sure it’s the right shape and the right proportion. A chunkier shoe will help [bring] balance, a flat sandal always looks great with a cocktail dress.”
Today’s flats are dressier and more elegant than ever before. “A flat can be extremely classy,” says Ashley Spiker, creator of the fashion blog ShoeRazzi, who wears flats daily despite running a heel-worshiping website.
“Designers are [providing] the most beautiful materials, and exciting details, and sexy cuts,” says Weitzman. “We’re trying to do as much on the flat as we ever did on the high heel, and that increases its appeal.” And the flat’s versatility and functionality ensure that the trend is here for keeps.
“Flats can be worn with anything, anytime, anywhere today,” says Weitzman.
And comfort is key. “If [a heel] doesn’t fit well, if it doesn’t make you feel reasonably comfortable . . . it is not worth putting on. There are many, many gorgeous things you can put on your foot.”Jessica Teich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.