Why a Lady Gaga-Like Platform Heel Will Be the Female Empowerment Pump for Fall

Consider them Lady Gaga’s secret weapon.

They were hidden below the singer’s’ periwinkle Valentino haute couture gown at the Golden Globes, which she boldly wore with matching hair. They were a must onstage for the Grammys, where she stomped and belted a rock version of “Shallow.” There they were again at the Critic’s Choice Awards, on display this time via a slit in the strapless blush Calvin Klein dress she wore.

And for the final act, they were on the Oscars red carpet and onstage as she sat at the piano with Bradley Cooper — and also on the star as she walked up to the stage to accept her Academy Award.

Underneath her black duchess satin Brandon Maxwell gown (and enormous 128-carat yellow diamond necklace by Tiffany & Co.), Gaga’s sky-high shoes were completely hidden — but the unshakable confidence they exuded was plain for the world to see.

Lady Gaga in Valentino couture with Giuseppe Zanotti platforms underneath.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

The platform may be one of the oldest tricks in the shoe book, but its long history does not dilute the powerful feeling it can create for its wearer. For the 5’1” Gaga, it’s an integral part of the fearless persona she’s created over the past decade, the one that racks up the awards and gives jaw-dropping performances, flying through the air at the Super Bowl like an American pop culture deity, belting ballads with the likes of Tony Bennett and Cooper, wearing couture on the sidewalk — and yes, even strutting her stuff in a dress (and platforms) made of meat. The footwear equivalent of a cape, they’ve also given her the courage to speak out against sexual assault and to champion LGBT rights.

CREDIT: Kayla Ricci

The 7-inch, lace-up platform boots that designer Giuseppe Zanotti has custom-made for her this awards season are only the current iteration of the other countless platforms she’s worn — and they are the podium upon which she looks out to her audience.

And now they’ve come back to the runways, too. On Thursday in Paris, Rick Owens showed an exquisitely disturbing fall ‘19 show that featured intimidating platform boots with metal grates across the toe, paired with prosthetic makeup that felt a touch like Gaga’s “American Horror Story: Hotel” role. At Dries Van Noten, the prints were colorful, floral and feminine as ever, but paired with patent leather platform boots with rubberized soles, the looks read like pretty but poisonous flowers. Back in Milan at Gucci, metallic platform booties and a pair of satin knee-length high-rise boots seemed like vampy party shoes until you looked up at the face masks full of spikes.

Platforms and prosthetic makeup at Rick Owens fall ’19.
CREDIT: Shutterstock
Rick Owens fall ’19
CREDIT: Shutterstock
Platforms at Dries Van Noten fall ’19.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

There are — and have been — myriad sources of inspiration for the elevating footwear, but the platform ultimately comes down to power.

Its return comes at a time when women have been gearing up and getting down to business in newly won government seats, winning more recognition in entrepreneurship, in sports, in activism, in making bids for the presidential election. It’s easy to envision Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Oprah and even Elizabeth Warren wearing them.

And imagine how Nancy Pelosi would look on the House floor with a discreet pair hidden under her pantsuit. Past iterations of the footwear may suggest that they’re youth-only, but Glenn Close’s elevated footwear choices during awards season prove that the platform can be age-inclusive. Just a few days ago, actress and newly minted Instagram style star Diane Keaton posted a selfie wearing a pair of black platform boots with flames printed on them. “Fire shoes,” she wrote in her caption.

Glenn Close walking onstage to accept the award for Best Actress at the Screen Actors Guild Awards wearing a pantsuit and platform shoes.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

After seasons of cushy, clunky, sink-into-the-ground sneakers dominating runways and street-style scenes, many have been heralding and hoping for the return of the heel. But as women are rising up in so many ways, is it any wonder that they might be reluctant to return to the stiletto pump, which feels like the corset of today, confining and uncomfortable?

The platform offers the power of height without the restriction of a traditional single-soled pump — as long as the pitch remains relatively low and the toe box roomy enough. Perhaps the female candidates of the 2020 presidential election should give Givenchy’s new platform loafer pumps a whirl underneath the brand’s sensible, grown-up pantsuits and see what happens on the campaign trail.

Givenchy’s new croc-embossed platforms for fall ’19.
CREDIT: Shutterstock
Houndstooth platforms at Alexa Chung fall ’19.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Of course, the platform is not without its sordid past. Though it had its practical uses in medieval Europe (stepping over human feces and urine in the streets) as well as the role of royal elevators to the likes of King Louis XIV (with his red-bottomed soles) and Napoleon, much of its history with women has been related to prostitution.

The circa 1100 Japanese geta, a flat-boarded thong sandal with wooden stilts on the bottom, was originally intended for men to wear in the muddy rice fields, but geishas co-opted them, and their oiran counterparts (high-ranking prostitutes) made them even higher to let customers know they were available. Venetian chopines (which looked more like today’s party platforms with a solid elevated block and molded, slipperlike uppers) elevated upper-class women who had the financial means for longer skirts, but they also lifted up high-level courtesans — the higher the platform, the higher the rate.

Platform sandals at Michael Kors fall ’19.
CREDIT: Shutterstock
Velvet peep-toe platforms at Tom Ford fall ’19, a powerful after-hours look.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

History aside, it’s still possible for today’s platform to be worn guilt-free, for actual enjoyment, and many designers have opted for the style simply because it’s a party shoe. “I wanted to do it because they’re trendy, they’re just fun,” said Annamaria Brivio, one half of the sister design duo behind “it” brand Paris Texas. For Pierre Hardy, the platform came from vintage aesthetics. “It’s a real ‘70s Biba moment,” he said. “It’s chunky and heavy and big, so in comparison, the legs appear thinner and longer.”

Designer Julia Toledano of the newly launched Nodaleto said a slight platform and a super-chunky heel kept the pitch comfortable in her new collection of mostly boots. “Comfort, comfort, comfort. My mom told me they have to be comfortable,” she said of her day-to-night, wear-all-day lace-up boots. At Alexa Chung’s London Fashion Week show, platform ankle boots were styled both casually with denim and dressed up with smart trousers, and Tom Ford kicked off New York Fashion Week with a peep-toe platform pump that is sure to be a major holiday party shoe in the luxury market.

Winnie Harlow walking in platforms at the Tommy x Zendaya show in Paris.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

The best interpretation of today’s platform and all its modern meanings came Saturday night in Paris at the Tommy Hilfiger extravaganza for the see-now, buy-now Tommy x Zendaya collection. Inside the Théâtre du Champs-Elysee, an all-black cast of models strutted in both disco looks and easy, professional-friendly separates wearing casual, ‘70’s-style metallic platform sandals. The models seemed confident and in charge but also blissfully carefree. And the platforms lifted them up even higher.

Models at the Tommy x Zendaya finale.
CREDIT: Shutterstock
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