In February, Marina Larroudé got dressed up to go out to dinner in her Upper East Side neighborhood in New York. The weather was still wintry, but the designer, who recently launched her eponymous shoe brand, was determined to wear a heel from her new collection.
“My son, who is seven and has seen me wear high heels his entire life, said to me, ‘Oh Mommy, you look high!’” Larroudé recalled with a laugh. “We were so used to wearing them in the past and feeling confident, tall and sexy, having the posture that comes with it. All of a sudden, after not wearing them for a year, when I put them on again, he saw that confidence, that height. We didn’t realize the power they had.”
Larroudé is not alone. Now as spring melts both the restraints of winter weather and the confinements of pandemic quarantine as vaccinations roll out, high-heel wearers across the U.S. are likely looking into their closets, assessing their options. If the chaos of Miami Beach’s spring break bacchanal is any indication, pent up demand for celebration is alive and well — and that zest will call for fashion to match it (responsibly, one hopes). What fashion item is more symbolic of revelry than the high heel?
From designers to shoppers and everyone in between, the consensus is that the high heel’s return is certain and imminent. (Some might argue that the style never left as evidenced by the demand for Amina Muaddi’s signature martini heels over the past year, even in the depths of lockdown.)
But how will we wear them now, after a year at home — and a year of turmoil? After the pandemic, building back the high heel is a question not just of festivity or taste, but also one of how we’ll redesign entire lifestyles moving forward.
For some, the answer is based on pure, raw emotion. “I think everyone wants a bit of a lift, and I tend to go with my gut. We all want to be dreaming a little bit,” said designer Maria Cornejo, who included sensible — but significant — wooden block heels in her Zero + Maria Cornejo fall ’21 collection. “We didn’t sell a lot of heels (last year), we sold more of the styles you can wear at home. But we can’t give up. That’s the whole point of fashion, to dream a little bit and take ourselves out of the doldrums.”
As much as it represents celebration and festivity, the high heel also stands as a symbol of tradition — for better or worse. A handful of women alleging that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo demands a specific dress code — that always includes a high heel — is indicative of the literal and figurative restraints and connotations the shoe still holds for women — a modern comparison to the corset. Contrast the footwear choices of the most powerful woman in the U.S. — Vice President Kamala Harris, who often wears sneakers in public — with the towering, stiletto pumps of former first lady Melania Trump. It’s easy to see that the shoe can come with some cultural baggage, itself a symbol of identity politics and the shifting stations of women.
For most women and high-heel wearers, though, footwear choices will come down to practicality, not politics. During the Presidential Inauguration, First Lady Jill Biden rotated two different pairs of Jimmy Choo pumps, which many fellow high heel wearers (regardless of party preference) saw as a familiar indicator of discomfort, akin to the footwear rotations seen at formal events such as weddings (in the end, many just take off their shoes altogether, going barefoot on a late-night dance floor).