The Magic of High Heels

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Yes, it’s no secret to women of grace and style. We can’t adorn our bodies with anything that has greater significance.   They’re a sign of affluence, fashion sense, power and sexuality.

High heels have been the defining wardrobe accessory for centuries.  There’s evidence on ancient Egyptian murals that heels have been with us since 3500 BC.  And they’re not leaving us any time soon.

“Nothing has been invented yet that will do a better job than high heels at making a good pair of legs look great, or great ones look fabulous.”
– shoe designer Stuart Weitzman –

But what’s considered high?  That has changed over the centuries.  Today, according to women’s shoe manufacturers like Gucci and Jimmy Choo,  today’s high heels are anything over 3.5 inches (8.9cm).  Most regular high heel wearers would agree with that definition, while those who rarely wear heels might consider a two or three inch heel to be high.

There has been a lot written in the last 20 years about the health concerns related to long term high heel wear but I think I understand the real story behind the alarm.  Allow me to give my opinion, which may differ from the others out there, and will definitely differ from the medical professional-turned media personality.

Let’s look back to the 1940’s and 1950’s.  High heel wear was quite common  among almost every demographic and occupation.  Stay-at-home mom’s wore heels to church, shopping as well as any event that required even a slightly dressy look.  Flight attendants, office workers, school teachers, almost every women in the public eye wore heels.  Yet there is no clear indication today that mature high heel wearers  from that era suffer more foot anomalies than women born before or after them, or even non high heel wears from the same era.  The warnings we hear from Podiatrists always make reference to today’s styles, today’s quality, today’s construction .. and in my opinion, that’s where the problem lies.  Not with high heels, per se.

“Yeah, but I do it backwards and in heels!” – Ginger Rogers –

 

Does it fit?

For those old enough to remember, feet were carefully measured in shoe stores to 220px-Brannock_uspat1725334-fig1determine accurate length and width, and only then was the correct size determined. Shoe store staff used something called a Brannock device for this purpose. And even if you shopped at the same store regularly, they would always (re)determine your size before allowing you to try on new shoes.  Foot dimensions do change, usually related to health issues, the aging process etc.

It was not unusual for a shoe store to have to order less common shoe widths for customers who needed a narrow or wider shoe.  But when you eventually left the store with a new pair of heels, you knew they fit you well.

Quality

Back in the high heel heyday, it was almost impossible to purchase heels that weren’t made of leather.  Leather was then, and is now, the best material for footwear of any kind.  But in those days, the quality of shoe leather was substantially better than anything available today at a modest price point.   It took a little while to “break in” a new pair of heels but as we wore them, the shoe contoured itself to our feet to some degree.  Today’s polyurethane heels only lose strength and rigidity with wear.

My Thoughts

So, in summary, I’m not so quick to believe that simply elevating the heel causes damage to our feet.  Other factors, as I mentioned above, certainly have a role.  I only wish the nay-Sayers would provide a little more detail to their analysis instead of simply painting all types and quality of heel with the same brush.

Consider not worrying so much about the height of your heels  but instead buy the best quality shoe you can afford.  Let me repeat that in different terms. When looking at a new pair of heels, let their construction beyour biggest health concern .. not the height of the heels.  Yes, the man-made $30 stilettos can be tempting,  If you just can’t resist them, wear them in moderation, but do own a couple pairs of versatile quality heels.

“It is all very well for so-called sensible people to recommend flat heels and short skirts, but most of us prefer not to be sensible.” – Anna Held, Polish-born stage performer

And to the other t-girls like me out there, we’re in a bit of a dilemma these days.  High heels do wonders for the shape of our legs and make our feet appear noticeably smaller simply because they use less “real state” .. toe to heel length shrinks as the heel height increases.  They also adjust our posture in a very positive way. But many of us don’t wear them because the “average woman” does not.

I’ll leave a discussion of current women’s style (or lack thereof) for another discussion but since people in general, and women in particular, are getting taller in stature as the years go by, adding a few inches to our height doesn’t always make us the tallest girl in the room.  The smaller steps we take when wearing heels is quite flattering and if we learn how to walk properly in heels, the fact that we’re wearing them isn’t all that obvious.  But enter a room teetering, stiff-legged and everyone knows you’re not what you appear to be.

“You put high heels on and you change.” – Manolo Blahnik –

There’s no other accessory that can do so much for our overall look.  A pair of stilettos instantly dresses up a pair of jeans,  is the finishing touch on your most glamorous outfit, adds a professional, successful air to your business suits and helps you to appear as confident as you are.   And the “click click click” when you enter a room tells everyone that you mean business.

Be safe, be sane and enjoy your heels!

(the preceding comments are my opinions only and are not intended to replace sound medical advice.  I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on TV, although I have been known to wear a nurse’s uniform in the bedroom)

Update: 03/25/13

I just found a wonderful podiatrist who understands the need to wear heels and has suggestions to minimize the long term risks.  Dr Emily Splichal’s Catwalk Confidence and Stiletto Recovery Program is worth looking into if you’re as high heel obsessed as I am.  You can find her at Midtown Podiatry in New York City or on her Catwalk Confidence website.  Lots of good information there!

Here’s a short video clip from an appearance on Oprah where she discusses and illustrates how to walk in heels.

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