I am a 6’5″ woman…when I wear heels. My confidence, my stature, my hip sway – everything is bigger, and some would say better with stilettos strapped to my feet. I can make heads turn, men smirk, and women gasp at the pure sight of me. I love and hate heels for all these reasons and more.
And I would guess, no matter how you feel about them, you’ve probably worn them too.
The Spine Health Institute reports that 72 percent of women will wear high heels in their lifetime. Many wear them daily – 49 percent of 18-24-years-olds, 42 percent of women ages 20-49, and 34 percent of women 50 and over.
To some, heels are a nasty habit. Lumbar spine flattening, posterior displacement of the head, and unwelcome increased pressure on the foot are all results of heel-wearing. They can even cause spasm-producing spinal nerve conditions. Any woman who has gone through an evening standing, walking, dancing or leaning casually against a bar in high heels knows the pulsing, constrictive, numbing pain they can cause.
But we still wear them. Why?
Heels make our walk more attractive
Psychologist Paul Morris and his colleagues did an experiment to test what heels do for a woman’s attractiveness. They recorded females walking in flat shoes, and then again in high heels. Like any good experiment, they needed a way to isolate the effects so that other factors didn’t muddy the results. So one by one, they decorated 12 different women of varying ages and sizes with glow in the dark dots at specific points along their body. They then had them walk a treadmill in complete darkness so that only their glowing dots were visible – one time dressed in 2 1/2-inch heels, the other, dressed in flats.
The observers couldn’t see the women – their age, their weight or their face. They could just see the way they moved when they walked. What happens when you rate a woman on her heel-walking alone? Apparently, a change in gait. With heels, there is a reduced stride, and increased rotation and tilt of the hips. In other words, she struts.
Without any of the other usual indicators of attractiveness, this change in gait alone made the study participants find the heeled-females more attractive.
They make us appear more feminine
Morris and his colleagues decided to take it a step further. They altered the experiment, showing the same videos of the women treadmill-walking in darkness to a new group of participants. But this time, they asked the participants to identify which subjects were females, and which were males. The key to remember here is, all of the walkers were still female.
With every “male” guess, the participant had mistaken a woman in flats for a man. Nothing ground-breaking here, but it confirms scientifically what we already assumed. Heels are girly, ladylike, and feminine.
Certified image consultant, personal stylist and confidence coach, Laurie Brucker, agrees. The subject of “to heel or not to heel?” often comes up with her clients. Her answer? She is an advocate for them because they make you strut.
“When a woman walks in heels, fluid strut is required which forces women to move their hips!” Brucker says. “By moving their hips, whether a subtle strut or an exaggerated cat walk, it reminds women that they are women!”
Heels are office dress code
Imagine going into work one day, confident in your chinos and ballet flats, only to be asked by your employer to leave and come back with heels…or just leave.
That’s exactly what happened to Nicole Thorp. Her employer, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, told her she had to wear shoes with a 2-4-inch heel. Thorp refused their demands and was sent home without pay. Although legal and within the company’s rights, she took it upon herself to change that and started a petition. It called on the people to make it illegal for a company to require a woman to wear heels to work.
The petition has received over 150,000 signatures and a whole lot of attention from the press and social media, becoming something of a movement. Or at the very least, a hashtag. Type #myheelsmychoice into Twitter to find people all over the world standing flat-footed in solidarity with Thorp — from outraged women sharing similar experiences, to a Swedish handyman who wore bright pink stilettos on the job to prove a not-so-subtle point.
“There’s a history behind heels and the damage that it can do to women,” Thorp says in an online video interview. “And there’s a sexualized element to it, as opposed to a shirt and tie for a man.”
Fashion journalist and style icon, NJ Goldston, lives in a place where the choice isn’t heels or flats. It’s sling backs or stilettos. Los Angeles. Tinseltown, La La Land. Where heels are considered the style de rigueur, an entry point into a mutual admiration society.
In her world, your car doubles as a moving closet. “No matter your social circle or neighborhood (except maybe the beach communities), heels are the LA way to amp up a more casual look on the fly when there is no way to go home and dress up after a long work day,” Goldston says.
She admits, the LA culture is embracing a more fashion-athletic look. She recently overdressed for a Sunday brunch in Malibu where more casual footwear may have been more acceptable. But that’s the exception, not the rule. “LA is such an event-driven town that flats are not really the way to go when you are attending a major luncheon or party.”