Three days a week I walk ten blocks up Fashion Avenue from the New York Penn Station to my internship in Times Square. For a girl interested in ‘what’s hot and what’s not’ in the world of fashion, this is the ideal place to be. Here I can find the trendiest people in the country, all awake at the same time, dressed in their best professional outfits, dodging taxi cabs and buses as they cross the streets of New York. It’s an intriguing and uplifting experience.
As I observe and analyze the popular New York styles, I have found that it is without a doubt the shoes that make the outfit. For a woman in heels, the sidewalks of New York are a runway. The seas of people part as she struts the streets, moving her hips from left to right, head lifted and arms swinging. Recently in pop culture, this particular kind of walk has been deemed a switch. The switch is the eye-catcher, the model walk, the sexual movement of a beauty queen, and it can only be achieved with the heel.
In a surprisingly fresh New York moment, I noted a man wearing a neon yellow hat lounging at the corner of 38th Street. His lean against the newspaper bin put him at about 5’7, wearing torn jeans and an old tee-shirt. He and his cronies were gawking at the thousands of passer-bys, as many locals in New York do, cat-calling at all of the beautiful women rushing by. In this particular moment, though, he showed no sign of disrespect. Despite her wearing all white after Labor Day, a tall olive-skinned woman in a short skirt and sweater glided past sporting a white stiletto heel covered in dime-size red cherries. Her switch caught his attention. The man quickly removed his neon yellow hat and said, “Good morning miss,” as a true gentleman would.
Marilyn Monroe once said, “I don’t know who invented the high heel, but all women owe him a lot.” Not only do heels make you taller, but they also appear to give women better posture, and slimmer and longer legs. They act as sexual illusions which appeal to a man and give women the confidence and self-assurance they need to be successful in the working world.
A survey conducted this past February in the UK showed that more than half of women ages 18 to 44 feel more confident in the workplace when wearing heels, and 18% of the women participating in the survey believed that wearing heels can have a positive effect on their work life, increasing their chances of promotion. The sexual connotation that goes along with heels may be a result of this confidence. In the survey, 79% had higher confidence when wearing heels out on the town as well. Are men giving more respect to women in heels, or just more attention? Some have suggested that you have to get their attention to earn their respect.
There is a thin line between feminism and sexuality. The confident and commanding Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice recently turned heads when she arrived at Wiesbaden Army Airfield wearing sexy black high heeled boots. Robin Givhan, writer for the Washington Post, said “she walked out draped in a banner of authority, power and toughness. She was not hiding behind matronliness, androgyny or the stereotype of the steel magnolia. Rice brought her full self to the world stage -- and that included her sexuality.”
A woman in heels is dangerous, and there is power in danger. It has been said that some sororities haze their pledgers by wearing stiletto heels and stepping on their bare feet. Talk about pain. Just imagine a size 10 foot stomping a three-centimeter metal heel into your big toe. Maybe to simply say, if you can’t survive this, then you haven’t earned your right as a real woman in our sorority. In the 1992 movie Single White Female, a woman killed a man by throwing a stiletto shoe at him and hitting him in the eye. I’ve often felt that a kick in the balls with a high heeled shoe would be the ultimate revenge on an ex-boyfriend. However, lucky for them, I have yet to fulfill my fantasy.
I have recently found that the popularity of the power-thriving heel is diminishing with the new ballerinesque flats trend in an attempt for women to seek comfort and style all in one. On the streets of New York, the woman in flats is easily lost and trampled upon. She is just a woman slouching through the crowd. In Sienna during the 15th century, it was illegal for anyone other than prostitutes to wear flat shoes in public. Now, it seems, fashion has sold its soles, and retreated to slippers. Designer brands such as Marc Jacobs, Dior, Juicy Couture, and Dolce and Gabbana (to name just a few) have all quickly caught on. Clare Casey, sociology major at Columbia University, recently declared to New York Times fashion writer Alex Kuczynski that “the recent fad for young women to wear flats is about female disempowerment.”
The flats fad has made strong, powerful, Steven Madden wearing women into girls pirouetting down the streets of New York in MaryJanes. As with the loss of the glistening shoe in Cinderella, we have been sent back to our kitchens wearing nothing but our rags and flats with a long list of household chores.
It can be suggested that the flats fad has derived from popular manga, pornographic comic books which are widely distributed in the Asian culture. As with manga, the ‘wide-eyed innocence,’ as Casey would say, is still sexually appealing to men. The child-like daddy’s little girl sexuality is personified through recent fashion trends, including short, pleated skirts and flats. It’s the school-girl look. And nothing says ‘take advantage of me’ like a Catholic school-girl.
“In the workplace, like on the street, on a runway, at a party, different looks send different messages,” says Casey. “Teenage girl looks convey helplessness, while more vampy looks bespeak what might be read as defensive confidence… women’s fashion is a bit of a compromise.” Ultimately, you are what you wear.