Last year my daughter graduated from primary school, the most exciting part of which was the end of year dance that she had spoken about long before she actually started Year 6.
The outfit had to be just right, so we searched long and hard for her formal dress. Thankfully for me, I didn’t need to go hunting for shoes. “I’ll wear my sneakers of course,” my daughter said.
I initially baulked at her suggestion – how could someone pair a pretty dress with sneakers? I tried to get her interested in wearing some strappy (flat) sandals, or even ballerina flats, but she wasn’t having it. And I’m so glad I didn’t push her on it. At her formal nearly all the girls turned up teaming their fancy dresses with gym shoes.
And now that the incredibly talented Chloe Zhao – who yesterday won both the Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture for her film Nomadland – turned up on the red carpet in her runners, we can conclusively say that pairing a fancy dress with your sneakers is a pretty smart move.
Many of us were raised on a diet of Sex and the City when we were younger, where Carrie’s fetishizing of high heels is almost a religion. We too pretended that our feet weren’t being put through a torture device when we rocked up to parties and functions with our friends while wearing impossibly high and far-too-tight heels.
I remember a family member once telling me that after she got home from a wedding, she took off her heels to find blood pooled around her toes. Yes, that’s the lengths we went to in order to fulfil our fashion needs, or rather what fashion dictated from us.
But then 2020 and Covid changed all the fashion rules. We all decided that comfort was good, not having bloody feet at the end of the night was good, actually being able to walk and dance without wincing with pain was good. Which meant that many of us chucked our high heels away during lockdown.
I was constantly on my feet running around after my three children and there was no way I was going to do that in a pair of heels.
For me, someone who amassed quite a collection of beautiful shoes while travelling the world, the end of me wearing something from my fancy shoe collection happened after I became a parent. I was constantly on my feet running around after my three children and there was no way I was going to do that in a pair of heels. Though I have to note, I saw a few women who did chase their kids in heels and kudos to them, but it was not to me.
Now I amass a collection of nice sneakers, though from time to time I do look at my fancy shoes sitting in the closet and think I’d love to be able to wear them again.
But then I think of how comfortable my feet feel and how I can actually walk long distances rather than hobbling as I did after a night out while wearing high heels. In fact kicking off your shoes at some point during a night out became almost a ritual for many of us women. Kristen Stewart even did it on the red carpet in Cannes in order to protest the film festival's shoe policy that required all female attendees to wear high heels.
I’m not sure I’d have the guts to be able to wear a pair of sneakers with Chanel, let alone wear them to the Oscars like Zhao did, but I’m sure glad these women did it because in many ways it showed many of us that being a hung-up on what the fashion gods think we should wear is not perhaps actually beneficial to us or our health.
High heels have consistently been shown to be bad for one's health. Studies have provided "consistent evidence linking high heel wear to an increased risk of bunions, musculoskeletal pain and injuries to the wearer. Some of these injuries, such as ankle fractures, were serious and required hospital attention."
However, as the researchers also suggested, for many women wearing high heels can have positive psychological benefits, simply put, many of us feel good in a nice pair of shoes.
As much as I enjoy wearing comfortable footwear most of the time, I can't deny the joy wearing a nice pair of heels can bring. For me putting on a nice outfit and teaming it with a good pair of shoes is a way of feeling better about myself. It doesn't happen often, but when I do dress up, it bolsters my confidence.
So for me, it's all about choice. While I love a pair of good sneakers I would also relish the chance to be able to wear a good pair of heels - just as long as I'm able to take them off as soon as they got too uncomfortable. But looking at my daughter and the next cohort of red carpet role models, I'm also happy that comfortable footwear for women is finally in fashion.