“Why do you wear high heels?” This question can be pretty difficult to justify when, on the surface, high heels’ impractical design just makes them look nice. So what is it that convinces many women to wear them despite damage to both their feet and their bank accounts?
The answer may lie in the way that heels can make you feel and what they symbolise. Your shoes are a form of expression and transformation. Wearing heels transforms your posture, your walk, your height. They can symbolise status in the way they elevate you amongst a crowd, femininity in the way they change your movement, and wealth in the way that they are impractical for much physical labour.
Sarah Jessica Parker sums it up well, “Owning a pair of Manolos became an aspirational choice. The wearer would not just acquire a pair of expensive shoes but a glamorous, extravagant lifestyle, like that of a celebrity.”
In the same way, soft, flat pumps used to be the symbol for wealth in the Western world for the first half of the 19th Century. These delicate shoes conveyed how women were limited to the home, wealthy enough to lead a domesticated life with no need for hard-wearing outdoor shoes.
Over in the East, the affluent Japanese wore geta slippers whilst the Chinese wore pedestal shoes, both elevating the wearer physically as well as symbolically. High shoes tend to slow the walker down, allowing a crowd to easily spot and admire them as they walk by. Heels also indirectly symbolised wealth, since the higher the shoe, the more fabric needed for the clothing’s hemline to touch the ground.
The Indians designed impractical shoes another way, in the form of long-toed slippers that the wearer had to shuffle in to move forwards. These, along with the other elaborately designed shoes are often excessive and expensive in decoration, drawing attention and making a loud statement. By the simple fact that they can’t stand much wear, these ‘jewels for the feet,’ suggest a life of luxury, being chauffeured around.
The modern symbol of affluence is the celebrity. These glamorous people are styled impeccably and wear designer shoes which more often than not, are impractical. They even require assistants to help them walk at times. Much like the clothing, the footwear is designed to be aspirational and symbolic of a luxurious lifestyle.
Removed from their practical purposes, shoes can be part of your self expression, transforming the wearer into who they want to be. So, when the average woman puts on a pair of heels, it represents power, dreams, aspirations and a little bit of glamour.
If you haven’t yet been to see ‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain,’ at the V&A, I strongly recommend it.
On until 31st January 2016, the exhibition explores the extremes in footwear from around the world, considering cultural significance, transformative capacity and the latest developments in footwear technology.
If you liked this post, you may also want to read my review on ‘Savage Beauty: Alexander McQueen,’ at the V&A.
If you liked this post, check out: Savage Beauty: Alexander McQueen
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