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Considering Melania: When A Shoe Is Not Just A Shoe

First lady Melania Trump has caused another fashion-related outburst this week after setting out for torn-apart Texas wearing not just her trademark stilettos, but an excessively high pair… towering you could stay. The internet erupted with cries bemoaning Melania’s inappropriate choice of footwear. Wearing a pair of super-high, and no doubt shockingly expensive, shoes to the site of a natural tragedy suggests, not only that she has no plans to get down and dirty helping out the victims, but that she has no understanding of how unrelatable she must look, and how important it is to make yourself relatable when you’re in a position of power. This was Princess Diana’s greatest skill. It begs the question then; when is a shoe not just a shoe? Back in 2015, Fashion Director Marie Kelly argued the importance of flat shoes versus the heel and today its relevance remains front-and-centre.

When French sociologist Marcel Mauss explored how particular styles of shoe influence the wearer’s body, he found that a high heel repositions the body, pulling the hips inwards, tightening the bottom muscles, and pushing the chest forward. A flat shoe, on the other hand, allows the foot to spread out and the body to relax. Looking stylish has so much to do with knowing the kind of woman you want to be. So, I can look like Barbie (hips inwards, tight bottom, chest pushed forward, etc) always stationary and smiling, or I can look relaxed and at ease, like a woman who has things to do, and who can actually do them without needing the arm of a man to stay upright, or a designated driver.

I reserve the same sort of pity for Barbie, with her feet permanently moulded to wear pink high heels, as I do for those women who leave the house in heels only to return in flats. After a couple of hours tottering around like Bambi on ice, they peel away their six-inch stilettos only to reveal a mass of blisters, blood and torn stocking, before reaching for the ballet pumps at the bottom of their bags with watery-eyed relief.

“There’s something about having the confidence to wear a shoe that is not ten inches tall that sends a message.”

High heels are often hailed as an empowering accessory, but for me, they’re simply a tool of restriction. I like to walk, more often than not I like to walk fast, and I don’t plan to slow down, not even for fashion. And thankfully, now I don’t have to. American Vogue may be proclaiming that heels are back for 2015, but cushion-soled sliders, mannish brogues with masses of toe room, and chunky loafers with wonderfully wide footbeds walked confidently (and comfortably) down the runway at Marni, Oscar de la Renta, and Derek Lam this season. Statement flats are the practical choice, yes, but they also have a far stronger identity than a generic outfit, suggest a sexy contradiction between masculine and feminine, and as Stella McCartney put it, “There’s something about having the confidence to wear a shoe that is not ten inches tall that sends a message.”

It’s no coincidence that around the same time Victoria Beckham swapped her signature sky-scraping stilettoes for a pair of boyish brogues she told The Guardian, “I used to wear clothes which would make me stand out, and now I don’t have to because I don’t feel I have anything to prove.” The former WAG is now a serious fashion player, and her change of footwear is sartorial proof. And although Beckham hasn’t made the switch permanently (to be fair, she has a designated driver), the over the- top Tributes have been firmly banished in favour of a more discrete mid-height heel or a stylish platform.

It’s true we all need a little help to walk tall sometimes, but for me, it’s a cool shoe like a wedge or a platform, which elevate and elongate without immobilising. Footwear historian William A Rossi maintains that “most women prefer a trip to hell in high heels than to walk flat heeled to heaven”. Not me. I’ll follow in the footsteps of Céline’s Phoebe Philo – arguably the most powerful woman in fashion and a firmly rooted flat shoe devotee.

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