Reporter's Notebook

Debating the Politics of High Heels
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Readers discuss the merits of wearing stilettos and other high-heeled shoes in the workplace and elsewhere. Join them via

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The High-Heel Haters

Many emails are coming in from my reader callout tied to Megan’s feature on the future of high heels, “Arch Enemies.” The first one comes from a self-described “career woman in Minnesota who NEVER wears high heels” and who challenges some common narratives surrounding ladies in stilettos:

The idea of wearing them to “feel taller” is beyond me. If that’s the case, short men should be suffering in stilettos instead of relatively comfortable platform shoes—if they care at all about their height, that is. I liken stilettos to Chinese foot-binding—just another way to make women helpless, while at the same time telling them it makes them powerful. They’re not good for your feet, and certainly not good for your back: Ask any podiatrist or chiropractor (but don’t ask Stacy London [the fashion consultant and reality TV host]). And never mind running away from a mugger—or chasing a mugger—wearing heels. It only works in the movies.

Google “high heel quotes,” and this is the type of hype you will see:  

  • Superwomen do it in high heels.
  • Strong women wear their pain like stilettos. No matter how much it hurts, all you see is the beauty in it.
  • How can you live the high life if you don’t wear high heels?
  • They might be painful, but they are a girl’s best friend

[The Marilyn Monroe quote seen above] particularly bothers me. Grrrrrr.

Here’s an anonymous reader, who also chimes in “from the high-heel-hater side of the argument”:

I love clothes, and I love shoes all too much, but I’ve disliked very high heels at least since I was in high school and that’s a long time ago. Why? I dislike them because the human foot was never meant to be raised up like that. I’m looking for clothes that make me feel free, happy, and able to go wherever I want, in comfort and style.

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.