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High heels, big problems?

Dolapo Agunbiade takes us on a surrealist journey through time and pictures to explore the correlation between the height of heels and economic downturns

The idea has graced the internet for over a decade: the economic climate determines the fashionable height of heels in women’s shoes. Is this an undeniable fact or just fabulous fiction?

The stiletto – typically ranging from one to five inches – has been adored for decades. The designers credited with its creation were Salvatore Ferragamo, Roger Vivier and André Perugia. The shoe, rising to prominence in the 1950s, came at a time when Europe’s economy began recovering from World War II. The stiletto swiftly became a staple for many women across the globe. The shoes were famously seen on the character Carrie Bradshaw who spent a small fortune on Manolo Blahnik. Popular luxury brands such as Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin and Oscar de la Renta still carry this style today  

In 2009 – at the ‘height’ of the recession – it was reported that the average size of women’s heels mentioned in social-media posts was an incredible seven inches. However, by the year 2011, the average dropped to a far more comfortable two inches.

Clogs first appeared in 1300s European fashion. Their transformation to platform state – like many popular shoes – began in the 1970s, when clogs were worn by both men and women. Their demand slowly decreased until they resurfaced in Viktor & Rolf’s 2007 Winter Ready-To-Wear fashion show

Also in 2011, Researchers at computer company IBM analysed fashion data to determine what the most popular pair of shoes were. They found that during those times flat shoes and kitten heels were in high demand.

The evolution of the platform sandal started with 13th-century middle eastern kabkabs, which then led to the European chopine. Other periods where there were major spikes in heel height were in 1929 following the Great Depression and in the late 1960s and early 70s. Notably, the 1970s brought with them another economic downturn for the Western world

“Usually, in an economic downturn, heels go up and stay up — as consumers turn to more flamboyant fashions as a means of fantasy and escape,” says Trevor Davis, a consumer product expert at IBM’s Global Business Services Unit.

Even trainers couldn’t escape elevation. By 1990 the original trainer – the plimsole – was a thing of the past. Collections by Buffalo London, Fila, Nike and Northwave in the 90s paved the way for today’s chunky sneakers. Could the West’s recession of the early 1990s be a part of this trend? The fad originally died out in the early noughties only to be revived again in 2013 by the Adidas Ozweego
In 1938, designer Salvatore Ferragamo presented a multi-coloured platform wedge named ‘The Rainbow’. Coincidentally (or not), the US faced a brief recession between 1937 and 1938 – America’s third worst downturn of the 20th century
During World War II, wedges grew in popularity because of the lack of leather and rubber available. The materials were needed for the war effort and women were forced to use alternative materials to make their footwear. The desire for wedges faded as the fashion cycle turned to other heels for inspiration. However – along with platforms – wedge heels were all the rage in the 1970s
One of the most iconic wedges was seen on Ginger Rodgers in 1945, where she sported a pair with no mid-soles
Fashion is not only an art form but a means of escapism. The fluctuation in heel size has distracted consumers from focusing on economic failures in the past and may continue to do so

Despite the fact that for the last year the majority of heel wearers have traded their stilettos for slippers, even a pandemic can’t stop the fashion wheel from turning.

In terms of footwear, it seems like the only way is up. Luxury brands such as Miu Miu, Versace and Moschino lure us onto greater heights with their current collections. Could it be an indication that the worst is yet to come?

Are high heels distracting us from the current economic situation?

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