I used to spend a lot of time several inches above the ground. It was painful.
I could never levitate or float or even jump high. I was not an invention of Roald Dahl. But I was very short and I was very desperate not to be, so I wore heels — often. I remember these years well: I am thirteen and on my way to a bar mitzvah in modest wedges. They leave a rim of angry blisters around each foot making it impossible to dance. I am fifteen, it is New Year’s Eve, and my heel breaks in a gutter on Third Avenue. I am seventeen, I just blew through my meager disposable income to own a pair of pumps, and when I put them on later, I’m in agony.
These heels — all of them — could not promise much. They did not come with fairy godmothers or plastic surgeons. But they did the trick for a while. They let me peek at adulthood. They convinced bouncers that I was old enough and family friends that I could sit with the grown ups. I would endure the pain all over again for that. It was worth it.
And then I stopped. It wasn’t supposed to be a political statement or the crest in a new wave of feminism; I did it because flats are cool. I did it because after I finally became at least a convincing hologram of a grown up, I didn’t want to try so hard to look like one.
We are told that tall women are not supposed to wear heels. They look more demure in flats. Feet planted on the ground, they blend in better in crowds — which is exactly why a statuesque woman in stilettos makes a special impact. Waltzing into a room in added inches and blatant bravado, she announces herself: she is taller than you and your brother and that potted plant and she does not give a fuck.
We are told that short women are the lucky ones. Heels flatter our calves and thighs. They elevate us. Josh Groban agrees: they raise us up. But heels cannot be for us the same sartorial middle finger that they are for our lanky peers. To make an equivalent statement, we need flats. A woman in flats can be simultaneously impulsive and graceful. She is not enslaved to Uber’s surge pricing or cobblestones or the patriarchy. When the right person asks nicely, she can walk home. And when she wants to leave, she can make a quick escape. She never tries too hard.
Effort is good and great and important. But control and pride are better. I have to imagine that the women who were barred from the Cannes Film Festival earlier this week would agree. They arrived in flats and were denied entrance. Heels are required on the red carpet, apparently.
Given that we live in a glorious age of fancy denim and white-tie jumpsuits and Jenna Lyons, what is in a dress code? What spells extravagance? Our dresses and heels and the tiny bags we carry are always a fantasy. Mine were, anyway. But is there now a different fairytale to tell? What should women wear on the red carpet? And when will Cannes force George Clooney into stilettos. This is the most relevant question. Let’s talk about it.
If flats are formal (and cool-wedding-appropriate) maybe that means flip flops are fashionable too. They’re certainly easier to pack if you’re going away this weekend and bringing a thimble of a tote. After all, you need to save maximum storage space for the wine.
Image via W Magazine