What’s It Gonna Be: Heels or Flats?

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by Leandra Medine
September 3, 2014
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Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. We’ve covered The Great Debate — most recently last December when Amelia waxed mind-numbing poetic on a pair of violet-colored shoes that she was too pretentious to just call purple. She went on to mention Jackie O and Betty Boop (impressively in the same sentence) but ultimately reached no conclusion on the topic of a conundrum that has been permeating genres within the fashion industry since long before the progeny of Stan Smith — white tennis sneakers marked with a silhouette of his face — first stepped foot (pun wholly intended) on the Upper West Side last February.

So, what’s it gonna be? Heels or flats?

According to a story in T Magazine’s September issue, the rage is on in the direction of flat footwear, which, according to the story’s author, is superseding the symbolism linked to the high heel in one very critical way. The humble former has become representative of power while the latter, a past talisman of polish, strong work ethic and elegance — attributes that when rolled into one make up the physical manifestation of power — slips to the sideline.

The question of why this is happening has largely been answered with the simple concept of a) the cyclical nature of fashion and b) wearer resentment toward years spent enduring the pain to appropriately dress the part.

But here’s what I don’t get: have we really been enduring pain on a historical scale here? Enough to credit the current pervasiveness of sneakers? Until about five years ago, the heels weren’t so high that we were conclusively unable to walk. It was only after the resurgence of heels in popular culture became so mainstream that in order to trigger higher pressure valves, there was only one direction in which to move — and that was up. Way, way up. Some might credit Christian Louboutin, a champion of the 5+ inch heel within the high fashion world, for the proliferation of this trend and his success has only really exploded on a widely global scale in the last decade.

Don’t get me wrong here — I see what’s happening, I’m participating in what’s happening, I’m just not quite sure it’s fair to blame heels for the recent popularity of flat shoes. And because, you know, this is the cogitation station, I would love to hear not whether you’re choosing flats over heels, but why you’re choosing flats over heels?

If you don’t feel like talking, just settle on clicking.

REPLIES
  • http://Medium.com/@hager_emma Emma Hager

    I generally do not pit one shoe form against another because both types can be equally painful. There are plenty of flat shoes that cause mad blisters, you know? So I totally agree with you on not choosing one in spite of the other. That being said, I’ve always generally gravitated toward flats for aesthetic purposes. My sneaker collection has been getting larger and larger over the years, and it’s always been my favorite type of shoe. I want to wear heels more, but the time simply has not come yet. flats 4 now

  • http://www.fashionsnag.com/ Fashion Snag

    I agree with Emma! I have some flat shoes that give me horrible blisters and sores so I cannot choose one over the other. However, right now I find myself wanting to wear flats with almost every look I put together. Sometimes I stop myself from wearing them as I know they make my legs look shorter and for photos heels would look better. The flats come along with me in my bag. My flats and sneaker collection has never been bigger than it is right now!

    http://www.FashionSnag.com

  • http://www.littlewildheart.com Alexandra Puffer

    I need flats as pretty as heels. Lately heels have been reserved strictly for no-walk, mostly sitting, maybe a few dances occasions. yknow?

    Warm Regards,
    Alexandra
    http://www.littlewildheart.com

  • dustUP

    I cheat. I look for a flatform of chunky heel oxfords and boots to sneak in some height. Never ever stiletto heel, I despise them. More than a half of my shoes have white soles and I’ve been painstakingly collecting them for years because they make my cheat action less obvious.

  • GapToothedGirl

    I love heels, but with a problem of flat-addiction I’m detoxed from heels… and this is a really bad news… Two days ago I bought a pair of Coverse with an huge platform… does it count as heels?? Come to see them at gaptoothedgirl!

    XOX, Gap.

    http://www.gaptoothedgirl.com

  • Jilli Joffe

    As a trend forecaster, I study fashion trends and try to understand them as much as possible. One thing I’ve discovered on my journey that has become blatantly clear: fashion trends that ere on the side of comfort are more likely to be adopted than uncomfortable ones. These are also the trends with the most staying power. It would appear that in the battle of high style over comfort, comfort comes out on top.

    Check out http://www.justjilli.com for more trend talk!

  • aimeebidlack

    This is specific to the sneaker genre of flats, but for those of us on the outside of the elite fashion crowd, sneakers offer a more budget conscious way to participate in street style trends. Obviously, there’s a major comfort factor here, but as a working girl I am MUCH more eager to go drop $100 on a pair of Nike Frees than $800 on a statement Louboutin.

  • Molly

    Flats all the way. I tend to fall over in heels it’s shameful. I like to know I can flee from danger at a moments notice! I also love the look of a men’s style oxford shoe with a dress for a fancy occasion.

  • http://www.ashliwithaneye.com Ashli Pollard

    I’m always going to be a flats for walking, heels otherwise kind of girl. I love heels! I like how they make me feel feminine in a different way than flats can. Flats definitely exude “cool” but for me, there’s nothing as sexy as a good pair of heels.

  • http://www.digiscrapcafe.com/ Sojournstar

    Emma is correct LMAO! but seriously, I LOVE heels, and the way they look, but if my back be a reason not to wear them then listen up!! They will make you pay big time as you progress in age ;)

  • Jamie Leland

    I’ve recently moved in the opposite direction. I’ve always been a loafer/oxford kind of gal, but these days I’m mostly in heels. I think it has to do with having a new, for realz job where most of the people I interact with are twice my age. I’m 5’1 and 24, so I wear heels at work to gain some height, lengthen my lil’ legs and (hopefully) make myself look more like a grown up.

    aimeebidlack makes a good point regarding the rise of flats, though. A solid pair of sneakers, sandals, etc. is generally easier to find at a palatable price point than heels and it seems that a higher price is almost always accompanied by the promise of durability, whereas heels demand more ca$h money for their sculptural superiority, even if they remain somewhat delicate.

  • http://www.adriannagrezak.com Adrianna Grężak

    I live in NYC. I walk up to 5 miles per day. I travel by subway, not taxi. I need a pair of shoes for my lifestyle, and heels ain’t it. At this point I won’t even wear heels to a special occasion

  • http://tongueburnt.blogspot.com/ Sarah Elise

    What about that thing about balancing menswear with feminine pieces to make the ultimate outfit? Is that a real concept or did I make that up? Also looking “effortless” or casual-yet-put-together is encouraging flat shoes. You look like you’re down for BIZNESS in heels but you look like you’d be able to take a spontaneous hike in flat shoes.

  • http://www.ladybowels.com/ Meg Finn

    what if the rise of flats is correlated with the rise of skinny jeans? the casual uniform of loose-top-skinny-jeans-ballet-flat has been inescapable for years now. and lord knows I can’t ever figure out how to make bootcut jeans look remotely chic with flats or sneakers. (might just be me.)

    • Jean

      This is what I was going to reply. It’s the skinny Jean and flats look. With bootcut or flare jeans, we will see a trend back to heels. That simple. Im getting old too, so I may never get back in 4 inch heels though!

  • http://coocooforcoco.blogspot.com/ Colleen

    I think the rise of flats has a lot to do with the general casualization of fashion. I mean, if you’re going to be wearing leggings and a sweatshirt, why wear heels ya know?

  • Sofia Thraka

    I can’t stand stiletto high heels both because i don’t like the way they look and also because I actually can’t stand on stilleto heels. On the other hand I also don’t like those ballet flats that are like a wrap bag that forms into the shape of the foot. The perfect shoe for me has a 3 to 5 cm chunky heel for everyday walking(moccasin, court shoe, boot) and for a night out an 8 to 9 cm maybe little more refined heel. Of course sneakers are sneakers.

  • Klaus2001

    I have a confession. I hate ballet flats. … Whew, feels good to finally get that out there! Alright so this is sneaker specific, I have always loved sneakers. Maybe it goes back to my childhood (okay, fine, adulthood) Michael Jordan crush. All I know is it’s deep and it’s real. However, it doesn’t take heels off the table. I am all about the chunky heels of the last couple years. As a tall girl, I made my peace with towering over the masses for the sake of that elegant shape, elegant but like, “F*** it, I’ll be as uncomfortable and tall as I want!” kind of feminine badassery. I’m just glad that more sneakers are being made now to give me options (once I score the moolah to buy them) in color, shape, etc. I think it’s social progress bringing the casual trend to the feet. FINALLY! At least for this cycle our dogs can catch their breath from the heights, and just chill in high-tops. It’s a comfort decision, it’s an aesthetic decision, and like everything else it’s getting it’s turn for a bit. So, thanks from me to the world and sneaker companies for finally coming together to make some magic while it’s their turn at the top of the ferris wheel. Stay gold, Ponyboy.

  • IZZY

    Part A: Reaction against the proliferation of super high stripper heels that people flail about in on High Street.
    Part B: part of the new wave of Tavi Gervison, Lena Dunham, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler et al feminismo!

  • Aubrey Green

    I love heels. However, I have really been into flats for the comfort. If I were about 3inches taller, I would definitely wear heels less frequently. To meet in the middle, I go with booties that don’t have a high heel, but a thick sole/bottom that gives me a couple inches of height.

  • su

    HEELSHEELSHEELS! Whatever fashion may dictate – this is my signature, as long as I am able to walk or stand on them! su

  • katerina

    i usually wear flats ….more comfy
    but i can never resist buying a sexy pair of high heels (the higher the better)…

  • http://jiaachacruz.blogspot.com/ Jia Achacruz

    It always depends on where you`re going to but I`m the type of person who will wear flats anywhere as long as I can.

    ROUGH & TOUGH☯ // I`m on Bloglovin! // IG: @jiaachacruz:disqus

  • Ali

    I am down to only one pair of heels because all the heels around at the moment seem to be 9 cm (3 1/2 inches) or higher, and they’re just too painful!

    I don’t believe in wearing heels to add height, as I think it’s fine for women to be short (whereas I understand that very short men might be self-conscious).

    Therefore the only logical choice for heels, in my opinion, is a 5 to 6 cm (2 inch) heel. Any higher and you’re doing serious damage to your feet and ankles.

    There are also some beautiful loafers and brogues around at the moment if you’re unenthusiastic about ballet flats.

  • Maro

    I just wear flats to spite my mother… :p

  • http://www.lecitygypsy.com/ Jessie

    i love my flats. but i also i have an obsession with 3.5″ heels. never a fan of the 5″+ heels.

  • roof

    Flats! Flats have not altered the anatomy of my toes, flats are innocent and comfortable. Plus they are a young thing, and make you feel still attached to your youth (shoes that you live in, shoes that can take you anywhere).

  • atelierjen

    Flats! Can’t remember the last time I wore heels. From Ballet pumps to Brothel Creepers, they are comfort and style combined.

  • Cinamaron

    Flats, because I love wearing menswear-esque shoes with my outfits!

  • The Fitting Shoe

    Do I really have to choose? I have such a good relationship with both of them…plus it’s all about moods and that’s mainly because women are moody…and as a direct consequence of that we will never be able to settle for one or another, we need diversity…
    http://www.thefittingshoe.com

  • Cranaberry

    Lately, it’s give me high heels or give me death. I’ve been really enjoying being the tallest person around.

  • LA Shoegirl

    I’m choosing flats these days because I want to be comfortable. I’m a fast paced person with a lot of shit going on in my career and life. Feeling like I can’t walk fast to a meeting, or run down to get coffee before a meeting, is not something I need to worry about. Having heels or the results of uncomfortable heels ( i.e. blisters, pinching) slow me down is not an option. Also, I’m over spending $700 on a pair of heels that I can’t wear often. I’m willing to drop several hundred on a pair of flats/sneakers because I will wear them often. There are so many amazing designs out there right now that offer comfort, sexy, cool, and don’t have a 4 + inch heel.

    http://www.lashoegirl.com

  • http://praypartyscream.tumblr.com PRAYPARTYSCREAM

    I choose flats over heels any day! So many more options. Whether it’s church … pray with the ballet flat. A party, you can never go wrong with military army boots, or if you feel like you’re going to scream at your boyfriend’s family picnic with some clean original black and white low-top converse!

  • Nancy Nijland-Tarankow

    Due to weight gain with age I’m finding the taller I appear then perhaps the more in proportion I’ll appear. However, this might all be my own delusional thought process. Flats make my size 12 frame look dowdy, high heals make my walk look
    like I’m flat footed. I compromise with chunky heel or feminine wedge.

  • Jennifer Liu

    Definitely team flats! Whilst heels can be very fashionable and on-trend, they can also be super painful and uncomfortable – not to mention all the potential health implications it can cause to our feet and body. It would be great if you could check out my blog http://saveyoursolestoday.wordpress.com – I hope to raise awareness on the harmful health effects of wearing heels for too long and encourage women to make the switch to better footwear!