The perception that dress is a shallow discussion is flawed. How a culture clothes themselves can speak volumes about prevailing social constructs, power structures, collective paradigms, and so forth. An observation about dress runs deeper than a purely surface remark. Today, let’s talk heels.
I’m spending a lot of time in the Financial District of San Francisco this summer. It’s a neighborhood with a colorful assortment of personalities and egos, and although my intern duties include no mention of anthropological fieldwork, it’s a lunchtime activity that I’ve taken on by my own accord.
Walking through the streets, I notice this: Men walk in brogues, wingtips, and loafers, prevailing the concrete streets. They’re unfazed by any crack or crevice in the sidewalk, and any change in incline. Women walk in various forms of the feminized stilt – most often, pumps with a tapered heel – teetering slightly, with a characteristic gait in which they lurch forward a few inches with each step. This lurch becomes especially noticeable when they pick up their pace to cross a street.
Most of the women on the street are in the minority of industries that have historically been, and still are, held by a male majority. Enough studies have shown that there is some positive relationship between height, income, and power. A boost in height can only help the women who are playing the game from an often more disadvantaged starting point.
However, it’s hard to take seriously the female who is only able to totter at a certain pace for a certain distance before needing a rest stop, or risk developing podiatric problems. This creates a bit of a paradox. The higher the heel, the taller the physical stature, the greater the sense of power. Happy XX chromosomes! By the same token, the higher the heel, the more severe the impairment on motility, the greater the sense of feebleness. Sad XX chromosomes. Funny how a source of power is also a source of weakness.
Heels have never been touted as the prevailing footwear option in regards to comfort. Women who claim otherwise, are trying to convince themselves as much as they are trying to convince you. Sure, a 3 inch pump will have you seeing visions of unicorns and cotton candy next to a 5 inch pump, but the prevalence of hammertoes, bunions, neuromas and the like, in women who wear often wear heels, is enough evidence to show just how “comfortable” spike heels are.
I understand the that heels are nice to look at. I am aware of the smart, sexy, spike-heeled boss lady archetype that society is infatuated with, and I am aware that height is correlated with power and status.
So, here is a proposal: To mitigate the physical drawbacks, and to maximize the social benefits of heels, I suggest we ditch the spike heels and start embracing chunky heels with the most unheeded enthusiasm. A thicker heel is no miracle cure to the physical pain and impairment of high heels, and, as it stands, it does not carry the same conventional sex appeal as a stiletto, but it will certainly do more for your height, feet, knees, lower back, and overall well being, than the classic pump.
Stop compromising your motility. Stop wreaking havoc on your joints. Stop teetering.
Speak eye to eye, and walk stride for stride.
The times have changed, and the days of being seen as a social ornament are so passé.
Pale Division basks in extraordinary heights, without extraordinary pain. Accompanying waxed and lame pieces optional, but brownie points if you can make it work.
Maui_bcn takes a more dialed back approach, by pairing a navy peacoat and periwinkle dress with black tights and black heels (with a thick heel and platform, of course!).
After dominating the board meeting, take a note from Deathbyplatforms, and transition your heels day to night by switching out your slacks out for a slip. Now, go dominate the dance floor.
By Adrienne Y. Han