LOOKING at the new cover of American Vogue, the woman standing centre stage cuts a striking figure. And not because she’s some statuesque supermodel (in fact, at 5ft 3in, she’s far from it) nor even that next week she’ll become the new Vice President of the United States.
No, what is extraordinary about this image, is that Kamala Harris bears not a pained expression, but one of serenity. She’s not hanging onto a nearby branch, a carefully placed chair or, God forbid, a man. Because Vice President-Elect Harris isn’t teetering in heels. She’s wearing a pair of Converse trainers.
It’s true that trainers have been lurking in the wings for a while, with brands from Gucci to Bottega Veneta getting in on the thousands-of-pounds act.
Ordinary women and celebrities alike have tentatively embraced the trainer trend in recent years; Kate Middleton has pranced in white plimsolls, Emma Thompson wore them to collect her damehood at Buckingham Palace, and even stiletto queen Victoria Beckham has occasionally swapped her skyscraper heels for a pair of Stan Smith sneakers.
But until the first lockdown in March — which meant we no longer went to bars or boardrooms, were only seen from the waist up on Zoom, and the only recreation on offer was a power walk — trainers were regarded as something you would wear off duty. They were not for when you wanted to appear powerful or sexy. You could run the world in trainers, not rule it...
Remember when, for her first cover of British Vogue in 1988, Anna Wintour put the model in a pair of jeans? It was the antithesis of power dressing. But this is better than that moment. Because now — finally! — the killer heel is dead.
Another nail was banged in its coffin at the weekend with the announcement by shoe brand Kurt Geiger, a favourite of the Duchess of Sussex, Angelina Jolie and Emily Blunt, that it would not be producing heels for its new spring/summer collection, merely flats and trainers.
Although it has ‘always’ introduced a new heel each season, the decision reflects the ‘complete reversal’ of trends over the past five years.
‘Dressing for special occasions, whether holidays or going out, has disappeared,’ explains Rebecca Farrar-Hockley, Kurt Geiger’s creative director. ‘We have sold far fewer heels, and I suspect that’s true of all shoe retailers.
‘Sneaker sales have been incredibly strong, but it has just exaggerated what was happening before.’
Just as in the two world wars, the pandemic has quickened not only the pace of equality for women, but this time our actual paces, too.
The heroines of this war — nurses, doctors, carers and shop assistants — have always, by necessity, worn flats. Suddenly, a dagger four-inch spike looks not just impractical, but insensitive, too.
It marks us out as being non-essential, frivolous, farcical.
For me, the ultimate fashion victim, this past year has been a revelation. A few years ago, tired of constant back pain and unable to negotiate steps or make it to the departure gate at the airport without a buggy meant for the old and infirm (not to mention a fear of ice, cobbles and those new bobbly surfaces at crossings,) and having just splashed out nearly £3,000 on a pair of embellished Louboutins, I then spent several hundreds more on a course to teach me how to walk in them.
It was conducted by a woman with over-developed calves who placed me at the top of some stone steps on Harley Street, and instructed me to open my thighs like a flower, feet splayed ballerina fashion, before landing toe first.
I was told never to look down, as though this were Everest, which it may as well have been.
I was to massage a tennis ball nightly with the soles of my feet. But not once did it cross my mind simply to wear flat shoes. That would have seemed like defeat.
Why did I suffer? The message has always been clear: We must toe the sartorial line, even though our feet ache. We must submit unquestioningly to the tyranny of heels, with some situations — be it the office or the Cannes Film Festival — demanding we don them. And woe betide the woman who will not comply — she who faces people looking down upon her in more ways than one.
I’ve attended so many weddings where the bride hesitated at the church door: not doubting her choice of spouse, but wondering whether she’d make it to the altar without screaming in pain.
Of course, Uber helped women like us, but there was always the danger we might get dropped at a corner. ‘No! Nearer! Are you mad? I’m in heels!’
But, finally, like liberated battery hens, we’ve been set free to ruffle feathers, even if it’s taken a pandemic to put a bounce in our step.
Only one thing worries me. A new series of Sex And The City is on the cards, more than 20 years after it made Manolos a household name. I really can’t see Carrie padding down Fifth Avenue like a camel in Uggs. But, given that the protagonists will be hovering around 60, perhaps avoiding a broken hip will be seen as a plus point...