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Falling Flat: Are The Days Of High Heels Coming To An End?

From Louboutins to Manolo Blahniks, high heels have had their place in both pop culture and high fashion, but author Lauren Bravo says that the days of high heels could be numbered.
Angela Weiss
AFP/Getty Images
From Louboutins to Manolo Blahniks, high heels have had their place in both pop culture and high fashion, but author Lauren Bravo says that the days of high heels could be numbered.

Fashion Week is underway in New York City, which means you can count on seeing many models working to navigate the runway while wearing high heels.

In previous years, videos have shown models trying to make their way down the runways in high heels, but tripping, stumbling and sometimes even falling because the shoes are so difficult to walk in.

From Louboutins to Manolo Blahniks, high heels have had their place in both pop culture and high fashion, but author Lauren Bravo says that the days of high heels could be numbered.

Bravo recounted her own history with heels in a piece for Refinery29 titled, "Down to Earth: Has 2019 Killed the High Heel?" She talks about having to go to the hospital in her 20s and how she protested when one of her roommates brought her flats to wear. She also acknowledges the pain of wearing heels and how she would take ibuprofen before going out to dance.

Bravo spoke with NPR's Michel Martin about why women have liked heels so much in the past and why so many are now leaving them behind.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

On why she once liked heels so much

I think it was about the theatricality of heels. I don't think I ever really wore them for men, certainly, and I don't think I really wore them because I felt that I had to. But I loved the feeling of that kind of stomp, that authority that they give you. And if I'm really honest, I think it was more about the proportions of an outfit. So I felt like if I was wearing a certain hemline, it would look better with a heel and there was just a kind of unspoken assumption that for certain occasions, particularly on a night out, you would bring out the big guns — you'd put a heel on. It wasn't until I got into my late 20s, my early 30s that I really started questioning that.

On why heels have persisted as a fashion staple

I think it's an answer with many layers. I think on some level, it's the idea that heels are associated with making an effort. I think if we're putting ourselves in a position where we're in some degree of pain, it's almost, you know, I guess the old adage, "no pain, no gain." [It's] this idea that if we're slightly uncomfortable, then perhaps we are somehow performing better. For decades there's been this idea that women were not professional unless they were tottering around in a heel. But I think if you strip all that away and go down to really base level, we've got to admit that you know it is — it's patriarchal and it's misogynistic. This idea that women should be sort of slowed down and debilitated.

On why she believes the popularity of heels may be fading

Well, fashion really has led us in a certain direction. For the last few years we've seen the rise of the fashion sneaker. We've seen magazine editors, models, celebrities comfortably kind of bouncing around in sneakers, and suddenly dress codes have changed. It's completely acceptable to turn up to quite a smart party wearing a lovely dress with a pair of sneakers on the bottom. This summer we've seen the rise of the ugly sandal as well. I mean, I spent all summer in Birkenstocks and a few years ago I would never have dreamt of putting my foot in something as ugly as a Birkenstock. For those of us that do love fashion, it's almost like we needed to wait for fashion to say, "Oh you know what, it's OK for you to be comfortable." Once we got comfy we thought, "Hang on a minute. I don't know if I'm gonna go back again."

On whether the fashion industry is following or leading the tastes of consumers

I think it's probably a bit of both. I think that fashion will always kind of do what it wants to do and there will be always be some designers that will want to kind of do something that feels contradictory. But at the same time, I think you're completely right and I think that feminism has been so vocal and it's been making so many headlines over the last five or 10 years that actually designers would be mad not to give women what they want. And I do think that they are getting a lot of messages [that] comfort is rising up our agenda.

On the backlash to Melania Trump's decision to wear high heels on a trip to visit people in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

I think that what that shows to me as sort of an observer is that these dress codes are so ingrained that I would imagine for Melania, potentially, it just would not occur to her in a public appearance to not be wearing heels. I think certainly we see the same with the royal family in the U.K. — Kate Middleton coming out of the hospital each time after having her babies wearing these enormous heels, and you know, womankind across the world I think was wincing. Looking at those photos thinking, "Oh God, that's the last thing you want to be wearing when you've just given birth." And I do think that we tend to associate high heels with making an effort with being appropriate and no more so than for these figures who [have] the eyes of the world on them.

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Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.