Regime change in a nutshell: High heels out. Sneakers and slippers in.
It has not gone unnoticed — certainly not in the pages of Footwear News — that the Biden administration has ushered in a new era of women’s footwear. The Trump ladies, according to journalist Nina Burleigh, favored “the vertiginous spike-heel shoe. . . . [F]or Ivana, Ivanka, Melania, and the Trump daughters-in-law, Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe of choice never went out of style.”
By contrast, BidenWorld is relaxing and putting its feet up. Footwear News has been covering first lady Jill Biden’s shoe choices with the avidity that Fox News reserves for the War on Christmas, noting her subtle transition from “pumps and knee-high boots” to “ round-toe loafers [that] featured a curved vamp with dipping edges and a subtle block heel in a silhouette also known as a smoking slipper. Marrying a loafer and a slipper, this design dates back to the 1800s and is . . . perfect for stepping into the parlor or on the porch for a smoke.”
It’s not just the first lady. Vice President Kamala Harris is practically a paid spokesperson for the relaxed feel of Converse sneakers. Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey seems to be a fellow sneakerhead.
Ella Emhoff, Harris’s stepdaughter and Instagram sensation, recently graced the pages of yes, Footwear News, which noted that the fashion-forward Parsons School of Design graduate has posed in both low-heel slides and high-heeled “strappy sandals.”
Before I weigh in on this hinge moment in American culture, I should explain my interest. Andrea Mitchell’s recent letter to the Globe caught my eye: “No one — female or male — should ever be required to wear high heels for any reason,” Mitchell wrote. “It’s unhealthy and dangerous.”
Mitchell reminded me of the long-simmering culture war over high heels, which isn’t easily broken down by party affiliation or ideology. Feminists have argued convincingly that tall heels are not only physically unhealthy, pressuring the spine and shortening the Achilles tendon, but likewise objectify women. As Psychology Today primly explained: “High heels may help exaggerate the particularly feminine aspects of gait.”
But some women favor heels for certain occasions. “[L]ook. I still want to wear dresses and high heels,” Summer Brennan, author of the book “High Heel,” wrote in The Guardian. “I like my femininity, or what I have been acculturated to think of as ‘my femininity,’ even if it is cultural. . . . If I want to run, I’ll put on running shoes.”
As someone who won’t be voting with his feet, I’m agnostic in this conflict. I know that people, including me, are enjoying the first fruits of post-vaccination socializing, which means off with the sweatpants and on with the glad rags.
“The Future of High Heels Looks Wobbly,” The Wall Street Journal, the Footwear News of American capitalism, warned this week. 2020 stiletto sales spiked, but in the wrong direction. Now the Journal expects a rise in heel sales, but probably not back to pre-pandemic levels.
The newspaper invoked the plight of a 45-year-old marketing executive re-accustoming herself to high heels for the first time since the lockdowns. On cobblestone streets, she finds herself “walking like a baby giraffe.” Like the rest of us, she plans to readjust to her previous life gradually, “starting with flats then go to a kitten heel and then higher. It’s going to be like training wheels for stilettos.”
I feel your joy, and your pain.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.