The High of Heels

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Megan recently spoke with Dolly Singh, a former employee of SpaceX and the current CEO of the shoe design firm Thesis Couture, about her company’s attempt to build a comfortable stiletto. Along the way, Megan muses:

It’s appropriate, though, that creating those shoes would transform from a “project” to a broader purpose: The appeal of heels—not just of sky-high stilettos, but also of their less audacious cousins—lies, most broadly, in their ability to function not just as footwear, but also as small, wearable symbols of mankind’s tendency toward restless ambition. Heels have emerged from roughly the same impulse that led to cathedrals and skyscrapers and, yes, rockets: our desire to be taller, and grander, and generally more than we once were.

That allure—of being something bigger than oneself—resonated with this reader:

What a wonderful article! Thank you! I happen to love wearing high heels, and it’s embarrassing to admit, since I find flats much more comfy. My reason for liking them is that I’m a bit short, and heels make me tall. Taller, anyway. When I put on high heels, I’m suddenly 2"- 3" higher, and I feel a greater sense of power. It’s much nicer to be able to look people in the eye and not have to look up at them.

As for the sexy factor, I suppose they make us look sleeker, and men like that, and of course. But the fact is that I LOVE feeling taller. If I could wave a magic wand and be taller, I’d wave it like crazy!

Another reader is a bit more skeptical, but she acknowledges the possible utility of high heels for a shorter coworker:

I abandoned high heels after a serious injury that left me with a limp for several years. I could wear them now, in theory, but I’ve lost the habit and don’t miss it. Wearing flat shoes or low, stacked heels (generally loafers and not ballet flats) hasn’t hurt my career at all.

The only woman over 35 who regularly wears high heels at my office is tiny and probably going for the height. Otherwise, heels seem to be for the young women in the lower-ranking jobs, while the older women who actually run the place wear more practical shoes.

So. Let’s talk about heels. Why do you choose to wear them? If not, why not?  Shoot me your shoe stories: hello@theatlantic.com.