Everyone is getting dressed up again — and the high heel is making its comeback.
At least that’s what I had heard from designers and fashion industry insiders as vaccinations started to roll out and the world began to reopen earlier this spring. After more than a year of a short-term, micro-culture of slippers and sweatpants, high heel wearers would once again throw on their finest to kick off (pun intended) a new era of glamour and celebration.
So with my vaccination complete and a few dinner reservations on the books, I finally took a closer look at my closet and the status of my shoe collection. While I had tried on my high heels a few times during the past year, it was always from the comfort of my home, and it never lasted more than a few minutes. Slipping on a pair of bejeweled pumps or strappy sandals was more of an act of nostalgia (or for the sake of social media) than it was a practice in actually getting dressed.
But now that I had a full weekend in New York City scheduled, picking out clothes and shoes wasn’t just an act of playing dress up; it was a requirement. While I wI knew that I needed to give high heels a try, Should I go for the full stiletto or try for some baby steps in a kitten heel first? Neither seemed like the right option — it was rare that I wore stilettos even before the pandemic, and a low heel felt somewhat pointless, not exactly worth the effort (plus, kitten heels can be a nightmare for long walks, which I was planning for even in evenings).
I settled on a pair of boots, a stacked heel by Dries Van Noten. It was a style that I had been eyeing for months, a smooth satin option done in black and covered with a digital print of purple hyacinth flowers, similar to a pair that I had chosen for an FN shoot on the best boots of fall ’19, in September 2019. They went up just over the knees but could also be scrunched just below. I had admired them since I first spotted them on the runway at the Belgian designer’s fall ’19 runway show at Paris Fashion Week and knew that I needed to own them one day, as a pair for the permanent collection I had started to build a few years ago.
I had found and purchased the heels on The Real Real during the depths of the pandemic winter, when I was in need of a pick-me-up — and was admittedly shopping for the sake of escape and fantasy. Now that they were in my closet, they were ready for a spin in the real world. But how would they really feel when I was in them, walking New York block by block, without a rest?
During an interview a few months ago, podiatrist-turned-shoe-designer Marion Parke had advised high-heel wearers — including myself — to take things slow, trying perhaps a loafer first before graduating to a high heeled sandal, varying the heel height, stretching my calves and making sure that I do not wear the same high heeled shoe in consecutive days.
Parke also warned that a year of not wearing heels could change the shape of one’s foot, especially if going barefoot was the alternative of choice and one was not wearing a supportive slipper or shoe at home. “There is a risk of your arch becoming lower,” she told me. “People think their feet have grown if they have to change foot sizes. It’s not that your foot grew, it’s that your arch is lowered and the length of your foot increases. You might have to go up a half size.”
I told myself that I should be ok, after wearing my supportive Birkenstocks at home most days over the past year. A session of try-ons confirmed that my foot did indeed still fit my collection of shoes.
But when it came time to wear my chosen high-heeled boots, what I had feared became a reality.
After a few blocks, I could feel the once-familiar sensation of blisters forming, on my ankle and heels. It was the inescapable ordeal of breaking in new shoes, an experience I had not gone through during the pandemic. I marched on, resolute that I would not change out of my high heels during the evening. But as the blisters began to further develop, I could also feel my arches start to scream. I had not been in this pitch for a year.
When I finally arrived to dinner, a bustling outdoor setup, I noticed that I was one of only two or three people wearing a heel at all. Most dinner goers were in flat loafers, casually worn with jeans or dresses. There were also more sneakers dressed up. Where were all of the celebratory high heels that I had been promised?
“When women do start going back to events, they are going to feel differently about what they want to wear,” I remembered Parke telling me during the interview. “Perhaps they are not going to want to go back to the high heel as they have traditionally come to know it. There will be some women who you will never be able to take out of their heels. There will be some women looking for an excuse to not have to wear them anymore.”
After dinner, I hobbled back home, slightly embarrassed, and with my lower back aching a bit. The boots went back in the closet. I’m still planning on wearing high heels this summer, but I’ll need a little more practice, some lower heel options — and maybe a few Band-Aids.