There was a time when I tripped around in heels without a thought. Then there was the time when I tripped over my own heels and pitched myself down a staircase, and I was sure I was done for. I cracked my head on the banister that I grabbed in a lifesaving gymnastic move and lived to die another day. But life was never the same.
Until that moment, I actually felt more comfortable in heels than in flats. I was told that this was because I had worn high heels for so long that my Achilles heel had shortened itself. I’d heard tales of a woman whose Achilles was so short that upon rising she either had to place her feet in those high Frederick’s Marabou slippers with the fluffy fur on the toes or walk on tiptoe. Grotesque and fascinating, I know, but nothing would deter me from wearing heels until they became life-threatening. And in these days of Lady Gaga dancing in 10-inch Alexander McQueen stilettos, that’s a tall order.
Like every woman I remember my first. I was 11. They were navy blue with Oxford styling and a solid stacked heel. I suppose it was the sensible look that persuaded my mother to allow me to have a pair at such a young age. I remember well how I teetered proudly to the school bus stop on coltish legs. And I never looked back.
I come by my passion for heels honestly. When my mother became a woman of a certain age, she bequeathed her ’80s designer heels to me. But not before lining them up for one last photo op and shedding more than a few tears. Charles Jourdan, Maud Frizon and more, in hot aquas, pinks, and reds. I couldn’t understand her grief at the time, but when my own heel-wearing career was cut suddenly and prematurely short, I understood exactly what she was feeling.
Woman have gone to all sorts of humiliating extremes to continue wearing heels, such as donning tennis shoes with pantyhose and lugging their real shoes for the outfit to work. I remember my first editorial job, when I accompanied a famous editor-in-chief to a press event. Just before arriving, we stopped on a sheltered corner. With as much dignity as I could muster, I held her flat Belgians that she had just shed while she strapped on her early ’90s equivalent of Jimmy Choos. This was what my master’s degree in magazine journalism had brought me to: Standing on Fifth Avenue in the shadow of Fendi, gingerly holding a well-worn pair of Belgians. Who was more humiliated – me with the shoes or her with the stocking feet on Fifth?
I now completely understand the willingness to endure such trials. Just after the stairs incident, I went to my fashion guru, E, and explained the heart-stopping fear I felt poised in heels at the top of a staircase. I realized then that heels could no longer be an everyday affair for me, not if I wanted to live long. Those black patent leather Manolo Blahnik Mary Janes and Chloe platform boots would be for special occasions only.
E sighed sadly and said, “I knew we would have to have this conversation one day, but I never expected that day would come so soon.” He gestured for me to sit down and said carefully, so as not to shock me: “No matter how bad it gets, you must never resort to Belgians.” I asked how he knew that was exactly what I was thinking? “Because that’s where this sort of thing always leads,” he sighed, “And you have to nip it in the bud.”
Now switching in a serious way to flats is no small fashion decision. It changes everything. To look dressy while wearing flats is a delicate operation especially for petite women. If I had to do this, I was prepared to shell out some serious dough. Yet I was stunned to discover that my feet will never fit comfortably into a Chanel ballet flat. Who knew? Thank God for Tory Burch: the toe ornament on her comfy flats adds just the right touch of sophistication. Or else I’d be wearing Belgians.