All around me I see girls in Doc Martins, trainers and ballet pumps. So what you might say. What, is why? To me this marks a major stylistic statement beyond the seasonal vagaries of fashion: could it be that women have jettisoned heels? Even for the red carpet at Cannes! Add to this the fact that Barbie’s ankles have been redesigned after 55 years to allow her to wear flats; and the increasing availability of pretty non-high evening footwear, and I conclude it’s definitely a ‘thing’.
And no small ‘thing’ either. After all, a delicate stiletto has long been a kind of totem of ultra femininity. They encouraged a sexy gait, lengthened your calves, made you taller and instantly transported the wearer to lands in which if their feet were this pretty, then surely everything else was too. And the joy of shoe shopping was absolute. It promised transformation in relatively affordable packages; a shiny new pair of shoes being an instant ticket to a whole new look. And as sisters in silken slippers, we promised each other that we’d slap ourselves into sense if we ever suggested a preference for, whisper it, the pursuit of sensible, aka comfortable, shoes.
Lord knows I have personally contributed a small fortune to the coffers of Madame Prada, Mr Louboutin et al. They are all neatly stacked in clear perspex boxes at the bottom of my wardrobes. And yes, I have some pairs that I have never worn; bought simply because they were so beautiful. Those were the days.
Post baby birthing, they have all not been worn. Even a year on. And now the morning nursery run dictates the practicality of a backpack and Converse, somehow I never established the habit of switching shoes once I got to the office. And I write this as the woman that thought nothing of sprinting across Victoria station in 4″ heels, as she who has done the Milan Furniture Fair in heels and she who would rather have boiled her head than previously worn flats. They just weren’t me.
But it wasn’t just my personal circumstances or the hillls of Brighton that caused such a re-evaluation. I also had something of an epiphany at the end of my commute one evening as I watched the men stride swiftly and surely off the train, backpacks slung across evenly balanced shoulders, feet marching towards the ticket gates in properly foot-shaped shoes. Any woman stepping off in heels looked absurb beside them, not chic. Why oh why, I found myself wondering, do we collude in emancipating ourselves by choosing to totter on teeny pins. Lopsidedly weighed down by over-stuffed shoulder bags and feet squeezed into points. It’s madness. If we want equality we need to not be distracted by hurty toes.
Nevertheless, the arch of a perfect court, the gleam of polished leather and the sparkle of a little shoe ornamentation can inspire blind devotion. In fact on June 13th 2015, the V&A opens a new exhibition that serves as testament to such ardour. It’s appropriately titled, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain. And I do maintain that some heels can be comfortable, you just have to find the brand that really fits your foot and ensure the heel itself sits precisely positioned right under your heel for maximum stability. That said, right now, the ability to step off a train without twisting an ankle ranks rather higher on my “important things” list. And it seems it does for quite a lot of other women too. I wonder how long it will last?