A Fine Season for Shoe Shopping

Even the venerable celebrity fashion guru Tim Gunn has come around to practicality and comfort in shoes:  low heels. He responds to the following question posed by a reader in the September 2015 issue of Marie Claire:  “What are the three shoe styles I should invest in for fall?”

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Gunn replies:  “There’s a major shift happening in footwear right now. In the past, fashion felt synonymous with sky-high heels. But recently, designers have been all about the flat shoe.” Gunn explains: “The latest crop is modern, fresh, and has an understated cool–almost like, ‘I’m so sophisticated I don’t even need to rely on high heels.’ I would load up on three styles of flats for fall: a versatile slip-on, a lug-soled Chelsea boot, and a sporty loafer.”

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By “flat shoe,” as the illustrations show, Gunn is referring to shoes that have a small heel or thick sole. Designer Michael Kors does produce a variety of genuinely flat shoes, but the Michael Kors slip-on recommended is actually a slide sandal with a low heel. The Prada loafer and Chelsea boot by Balenciaga both feature thick soles that are a far cry from unsupportive flat shoes.

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Indeed, other fashion watchers spotlight the difference between flats and low heel shoes. In the September 2015 issue of People Style Watch, the magazine addresses the fashion goal “I have to give my flats a break.” The reply:  “Fact: You can (literally and figuratively) elevate your look without killing your feet. Go for a pair of lower, chunkier heels–they have a cool retro look that’s totally on-trend, and they are easy to walk in.” Pictured are designs by Nina originals, Calvin Klein, and Stuart Weitzman.

As Gunn concludes:  “Cheers to more comfortable days ahead!”

Overly Casual Style Afoot

While the discomfort and injuries attributable to unreasonably designed footwear continues to pile up, a number of couture designers have looked to the youth market for their version of an antidote to their customers’ pain. The solution they proffer:  Sneakers.

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Athletic footwear is, this moment, high fashion, worn with absolutely everything, but in designer versions, of course. The May 2014 issue of Lucky magazine reports:  “With designers from Chanel to Marc Jacobs turning out sporty lace-ups, the sneaker is officially the shoe of the season.” Pictured above is a $299 dress from H&M worn with $995 Chanel perforated sneakers. The model’s earrings, $350, are also from Chanel. The cardigan sweater worn around her waist is $128 from Nic + Zoe.

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Some styles pictured in the Lucky photo spread, such as ensemble with jeans and a sporty perforated mesh look with a tee shirt — require not much of a stretch to accompany the look with sneaks. A ’50s-inspired look above, looks rather costumey with the addition of the $860 Dior sneakers. (The model wears a $66 Asos skirt, $10 Hanes socks, and  $16 crop top from Forever 21.)

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The design director for Vogue magazine, Raul Martinez, is quoted in the May 2014 issue of the magazine in the feature “The Editor’s Eye”:  “Right now it’s all about the sports influence, especially with the sneaker frenzy going on for fall.”

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Without any tongue-in-cheek at all, the May 2014 issue of Vogue reports:  “The street-style set trades towering heels for colorful sneakers, pairing high fashion with gym-class footwear.” Among the looks pictured is a highly circulated photo of singer Rihanna in head-to-toe Chanel Haute Couture, wearing sneakers that match her ensemble. To Vogue’s credit, sneakers from athletic footwear experts Nike and Adidas also make the style cut.

While sneakers can be comfortable to wear, no doubt, they also can have a tendency to make an ensemble look more than a bit schlumpy, matchy-matchy Chanel Haute Couture versions notwithstanding, when not worn with sporting clothes or casual wear. As with all trends, in deciding whether to incorporate this trend into your wardrobe, consider whether sneakers contribute to the image you want to convey.

Shoe Sanity: Rationales & Recommendations for Comfortable Footwear Spring 2014

It is remarkable that the fashion press almost universally ignores the damage to feet caused by all too many of the fashionable shoes created and promoted by designers and featured in magazine editorial content. Here are recent articles that spotlight the potential issues:

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The March 2014 issue of Shape includes an article entitled “Hard on heels” that concludes that rushing around in high heels “can wreak havoc on your joints.” The article elaborates:

“It’s no secret that they can cause foot, back, and even hip pain. But if you’re still sporting heels, here’s another potential peril to consider: Women who frequently run in pumps–to catch the bus or chase after their kids, for example–could be setting themselves up for serious knee problems later in life, according to research published in the International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Technology.

The article references a test in which women jogged in 2 2/3-inch heels, compared with 1 1/4-inch heels and flat footwear. The women wearing the higher heels “had an increased range of knee and hip motion as they moved” which “puts unsafe pressure on joints . . . and can, over time, contribute to osteoarthritis.” The potential for ankle sprains is also noted. The article concludes:  “The bottom line:  Skip the stilettos if you know you’ll be on the go, and always pack a pair of flats in case you’re caught off guard.”

Notice that the “high heels” tested were only 2 2/3 inches in height, hardly stilettos of the heights common  in many designer collections.

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The April 2014 issue of Woman’s Day contains an article entitled “Fight Foot Pain:  Why your feet ache–and how to make them feel better fast” by Alyssa Shaffer. She reports that “the podiatrist says . . . Be smart about shoes.”  Shaffer files this report form Carly Robbins, DPM, of Foot & Ankle Specialists of Marysville, OH:

“You already know wearing heels isn’t great for your feet, but flats may be just as bad. The lack of support can cause painful conditions such as plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the tissue that runs from heel to toes)–and it’s not only your feet that suffer. Flimsy shoes can lead to knee, hip and back pain. To avoid injury, limit these styles to events that don’t involve much standing or walking, and consider using orthotic inserts. Over-the-counter options are available for most shoes–even heels and flats. But for more serious conditions, such as fallen arches, see a podiatrist for custom inserts.”

Still not convinced that low-heeled (but not flat) comfortable shoes are the way to go?  Consider these stories pulled from the pages of the fashion press:

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The December 2013/January 2014 issue of Harper’s Bazaar reports (with a startling admission):  ”The news is out–heels are getting low, much to the relief of our aching feet. But for the vertically inclined, never fear:  You can still get your kicks in with a block-heeled sandal–it’s the chic compromise between the vertiginous stiletto and the workaday flat.” Pictured are styles from Marvin K. and Marni. Block heels were first reported by Harper’s Bazaar back in fall 2012, over a year ago, as I discussed in my October 4, 2012 blog post. The block heel is proving to have staying power.

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In the April 2014 issue of Elle, actress, House of Harlow 1960 designer and style icon Nicole Richie explains her flat shoes in the photo above to creative director Joe Zee: “I wear flat shoes all the time. There’s not anything cute about waddling in some heels that you’re not comfortable in. My one rule is that I always wear flats to weddings.” Joe asked why. She responded:  “Because I want to dance!  I want to be there all night. And I know people get cray.”  Richie wears an Alexander Wang dress over a House of Harlow 1960 sweater with Reed Krakoff shoes. Note that the oxford-style shoes are not completely flat, but rather have a heel of at least an inch – a perfect blend of comfort and chic.

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Singer Taylor Swift, the cover girl of the March 2014 issue of Glamour, “says: Ditch your heels. ‘I’m obsessed with flats,’ Ms. Swift tells us. ‘Obsessed.’ (And when the 5’10″ superstar gets obsessed, step back.) Swift favors loafers, oxfords, ballet flats, and quirky-cute cat slip-ons from Charlotte Olympia, worn with anything and everything.”

More on the latest in chic and comfortable footwear will follow.

Ankle Boots: When to Ignore the Booties’ Call

More than a few fashion designers and editors are strongly promoting the style of short boots referred to in the fashion vernacular as “booties” this season.  If your point of reference is models with legs that seemingly go on forever, it’ s easy to understand why you might think this style is fresh and chic.

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With a dizzying array of styles, what booties have in common is a relatively high heel, whether blocky, stiletto, or something in between, sometimes accentuated with wedges or platforms, and a top that ends high on the top of the foot or at the ankle. Here’s a selection from the October 2013 issue of Elle magazine.

The issue with ankle boots is their effect on proportions:  They have the visual effect of shortening the wearer’s legs. The longer your legs, the more likely you will find the style flattering.

To accommodate the visual shortening of the legs at the bottom, fashion editors suggest raising the hemline on the skirt so that more leg is showing.  That works great in theory, but, as a practical matter, most situations – and most mature bodies –  require more leg cover. Wearing booties with matching dark tights helps to minimize the shortening effect, but unless the tops of the booties fit close against the ankles or legs, they can’t quite make up for the visual effect of a horizontal line at the ankle.

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This montage from the October 2013 issue of Glamour includes a couple of photos of ankle boots on models’ legs. Their long legs look short, lace-ups notwithstanding.

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Even Lucky magazine, which targets a younger demographic than this blog, reports that its accessories editor Melissa Lum “smiled kindly–almost pityingly–at this question”: “Socks with ankle boots. How to make this work?”  Lum replies:  “The short answer is you need to have really cute legs if you want to wear ankle boots–ankle boots with socks are even harder.” The magazine expands this view:  “The problem is, they cut your leg off at its slimmest portion–so any leg, no matter how lithe, looks a little chunkier and stubbier.”

As for ankle boots worn with pants, the issues are similar. For the sleekest line, tuck slim pants into the boots, but the visual line created at the top of the boots still shortens the legs. Alternatively, wear boot-cut pants over the ankle boots. While that avoids the cutoff effect, it also makes the style entirely superfluous because no one can see that the footwear consists of ankle boots.

Some of the ankle boot designs are stunning, no doubt — worthy of inclusion in a footwear collection. But in real life, they simply may not be flattering.

Chic Low Heels & Ankle Straps

For those who are searching for more chic low-heeled options in footwear, there is an exciting assortment pictured in the May 2013 issue of Allure magazine, which comments: “After years of teetery stilettos, heels have come back to earth.”

The styles pictured are all sandals with a strap across the top of the foot and a strap around the ankle. Ankle-strap footwear can be very alluring, but is not for everyone. They are most flattering on long legs with slender to average ankles, as the ankle straps create horizontal lines that visually shorten the legs, an effect most pronounced with bigger ankles. The chunkier the ankle strap, the more pronounced the shortening effect. Styles with less contrast against the color of one’s skin are easier to wear than styles that provide high contrast.

None of these low-heeled options in Allure come with a low price. The sandals are $825 in patent leather from Roger Vivier; $435 in blue leather from Tibi; $600 in cotton and faux leather from Stella McCartney; $795 in leather with a metallic heel from Lanvin; $1,150 in white leather from Hermes; and a whopping $5,270 (yes, five thousand two hundred seventy dollars) in crocodile and Plexiglas from Michael Kors.

The Michael Kors sandals are also featured in the March 2013 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, shown above.

Harper’s Bazaar features a number of other styles of lower-heeled shoes without ankle straps, including the above block heel shoes form Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquiere, which ring in at $755.

Also pictured in Harper’s Bazaar are these lower-heeled shoes from Reed Krakoff which, at $590, are not only more comfortable on the feet and easier to wear, but are also easier on the budget.

 

The Sound of Other Shoes Dropping

When Sarah Jessica Parker, well known and loved for her role as Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City, announces a new perspective relative to shoes, women might want to take heed. On ABC-TV’s The View last week, the panel discussed as one of its “hot topics” the news that Parker has announced she is giving up high heels – mostly. Fashion’s obsession with sky-high heels was compared to the ancient Chinese tradition of foot-binding, a disabling practice, long gone, that was thought to make women more attractive.

The hot topic stemmed from an interview published online by Net-a-Porter on March 7, 2013 and picked up by the Huffington Post.  Here’s the pertinent portion of the interview:

While Parker may have moved on from Carrie, at least for now, the role has left its mark on her – and on us. Seated in a small Italian restaurant in New York’s SoHo district, our neighbor stares at the petite actress, despite her casual attire of grey cotton blouse, jeans rolled at the hems and, yes, high heels. One expects nothing less, but Parker tells me extra inches are a rarity these days. “For ten or so years, I literally ran in heels. I worked 18-hour days and never took them off. I wore beautiful shoes, some better made than others, and never complained. But then I did I Don’t Know How She Does It, and I was very thoughtful about my whole wardrobe and said, you know, [Kate Reddy] could not afford really good footwear. So I got [lower priced] shoes and the bottoms weren’t leather, they were plastic, so I slipped a couple times, twisted my ankle. I went to a foot doctor and he said, ‘Your foot does things it shouldn’t be able to do. That bone there… You’ve created that bone. It doesn’t belong there.’ The moral of the story is, the chickens are coming home to roost. It’s sad, because my feet took me all over the world, but eventually they were like, ‘You know what, we are really tired, can you just stop – and don’t put cheap shoes on us?’”

 

The April 2013 issue of Glamour magazine reveals that Sarah Jessica Parker is far from alone in experiencing foot problems from footwear. In a Glamour poll of 1, 177 women, only 28 percent of the women polled reported that they had never had a “serious shoe-related injury” – and of the 72 percent that have experienced a serious shoe-related injury, 38% have “wiped out”; 43% have had heel or ankle pain; 32% have twisted or sprained an ankle; and 5% have fractured or broken a foot. No wonder over a majority of the women Glamour polled – 57% – reported that a one-  to two-inch heel “is plenty.”

Despite this evidence, there are articles like the one that appeared in the November 2012 issue of Marie Claire in which the writer asserts that she spent $1,200 to receive gel dermal fillers on the balls of her feet after she had been shamed by a friend at a wedding for taking off her 4-inch stilettos. The painful and expensive medical procedure allowed her to reduce her pain by a whopping one-third at the next event to which she wore the aforementioned stilettos.

 

The April 2013 issue of People Style Watch includes a full page of beautiful low-heel shoe options in its Spring Accessories Guide. Designers as high-end as Michael Kors, Sigerson Morrison, and Dolce & Gabbana provide chic low-heel options.

Take a stand against fashion’s ridiculous obsession with dangerous, foot-damaging footwear. It’s time to vote with your feet.

Great Style Has No Size But Some Jewelry Does

I salute InStyle magazine on its new monthly feature “Great Style Has No Size!” under the heading “Your Look: Full-Figure Flair” which debuted in November 2012. As the magazine explains in the initial feature: “We heard you! You asked to see the trends in silhouettes cut for your body, so take note: When it comes to outerwear, the fashion-savvy are selecting statement coats in bold hues or with eye-catching details.”

The outerwear featured is an attractive mix of styles, some of which will work better on some full-figured shapes than on others, nuances which necessarily go beyond the scope of a one-page magazine article.

InStyle adds style tips to the three looks at left. With the blue jacket from Catherine’s, InStyle comments: “A short style works best when it’s at least fingertip length. Skinny pants balance the looser shape on top.” A fingertip-length jacket also works just fine on women with less than slender legs for whom skinny pants are not an option. To my eye, skinny pants may make the figure look out of proportion for a well-proportioned full-figured woman. Straight-cut or slightly boot-cut pants provide a visually cohesive and well-proportioned look top to toe.

With the red coat from Marina Rinaldi, InStyle comments: “Draw attention up to your face by echoing the coat’s open neckline with a similarly revealing dress.” That’s all well and good when the point of the coat isn’t warmth but style. However, reality requires a more practical approach. Cover up the clavicle by adding a non-bulky woven wool scarf.

InStyle comments about the third coat in patterned wool from Talbots: “Two full-body prints equal visual overload. Instead, let the patterned piece take center stage by combining it with a solid.” The combination pictured is attractive (the dress is from Elie Tahari), but the rule is more limiting than it needs to be. A nuanced discussion of what designs would work with the coat would take more than a few lines of text.

The footwear pictured merits discussion. The suede skimmers from Pretty Ballerinas shown with the blue jacket ensemble are practical and cute. The black booties shown with the red coat and sexy dress from Lane Bryant are not flattering, as they make the model’s legs look shorter. The heavy straps of the high heeled sandals at right draw the eye first, negating the effort of coordinating dress and coat.

There’s another detail that requires comment about the ensembles pictured. With the red coat, the model wears a delicate necklace of rose gold vermeil from Jennifer Zeuner Jewelry. With the print coat, the model wears a short necklace of Swarovski crystal and hematite plate from Lionette Designs by Noa Sade.

I visited the Jennifer Zeuner Jewelry web site and learned that the designer’s necklaces are uniformly 16 inches long, but that a purchaser can specify in the special instructions the length of the chain desired, a helpful option.

The Dakota necklace pictured from Lionette Designs by Noa Sade is only 15 inches long. When I inquired as to whether the necklace could be ordered in a different length, I was told that the necklace is “a comfortable fitting collar as shown in [the] InStyle shot,” that it is not adjustable, and that it comes only in that one standard size.

A 15-inch necklace is a collar length that will work only for a woman with a fairly slender neck; even 16 inches is very short. Many women who wear misses’ sizes require a necklace of 16 to 17 inches. Working with full-figured women over the years as an image consultant, I have learned that a necklace of 18 to 20 inches is a more appropriate length for many full-figured women.

Designers run into practical considerations in producing jewelry. Clearly, it is less expensive to produce a necklace in a 15-inch length than it is to produce a necklace some 20 or 25 percent longer. However, the short necklace length will not work for most full-figured women and designers limiting their selections to that length will be losing a huge potential market for their designs.

If InStyle wants to serve the full-figured women’s market with the “Great Style Has No Size!” feature, the magazine needs to promote designs that accommodate realistic neck sizes. One-size-fits-all does not hold true in jewelry. Any article that purports to outfit full-figured women needs to take into consideration not only the size of the garments, but also the size of the jewelry being promoted.

Stay Grounded with More Chic Low-Heeled Footwear Options

The October 2012 issue of Elle adds its take on the new style of block heels: “Who said fashion is all about tall and skinny? Stay grounded with the season’s short, stacked heels.”

Pictured are a suede sandal with goldtone trim from Gucci, a colorful python cross-strap sandal from Michael Kors, a nude patent calfskin sandal from Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquiere, and a neutral-hued  python sandal from Celine.

With designers like these jumping on the low-heel bandwagon, there truly are killer shoes that won’t kill your feet available as high-fashion options.

Take a Stroll Around the Block in Block Heels, the Latest Most Wearable Footwear

The October 2012 issue of Harper’s Bazaar provides its take on what to buy in footwear this season. The recommended style for purchase incorporates a block heel, as seen on the Michael Kors sandal pictured below. Bazaar comments: “A chunky sandal in a metallic hue is right, right now.”

Not only is the block heel style cutting-edge, it is comfortable and stable. That particular $1,595 Michael Kors pair is not in most women’s budgets, so it will be necessary to do some shopping to find other designs with block heels.

Here’s a pair of suede fringe pumps featuring block heels from Prada, available at saksfifthavenue.com. These pumps are $530.

Nordstrom.com has only a few styles that fit the bill, including the color block look below from VC Signature, originally $225, on sale for $111.90.

There are other sandals with chunky heels on Nordstrom.com, but they are almost exclusively platform style sandals. While Harper’s Bazaar says “keep” the single-sole classic style high-heel pump, the magazine says “store” ’70s style platform shoes.

It’s great to be both chic and sure-footed. Take note: It seems that platform shoes may be on their last legs.

The Other Shoes Have Dropped

For those of us who are proponents of comfortable footwear, there is good news that appears in a half-page write-up in the May 2012 issue of Vogue: “The news from the fall 2012 collections, which you may not be able to wait a moment to try this spring: Shoes are down, way, way, way down, in elevation. . . . [T]his season it’s finally true: Low is the new high.”

Pictured are ankle-strap accented red pumps from Valentino Garavani and Southwest-influenced low-heel pumps from Manolo Blahnik. Vogue mentions Chloe as another line with “relatively small but chunky heels around a couple of inches at most.”

With preeminent designers embracing this low-heel trend, shoe shopping is going to be a joy once more.