The Wall Street Journal’s fashion expert Christina Brinkley recently announced that the power suit for women was on its way out and now she says the heel is following in its footsteps (no pun intended). Even though 30 Rock’s Avery Jessup once said “Flats are for quitters,” it seems that now flats are also for powerful women who want to be able to walk when they are 80.
The “flat is making a play for power,” says Brinkley and we are going to see them in more boardrooms.
“Long stuck in the purgatory of casual wear, flats are suddenly being promoted for polished occasions. Flats sleek enough to be dress shoes were paired with tailored suits and even with evening wear on the spring runways from Marc Jacobs to Giorgio Armani.”
But she does concede that the allure of the high heel and the mythical power associated with them will never wane. They always outsell flats and they aren’t going anywhere (unlike the power suit.) It is a simple fact. High heels make your legs look better. They give women a different stance, a purposeful pointy toe and most importantly, extra inches. Answering a 2009 TODAY Show poll that asked “Do high heels empower or oppress women in the workplace?” 32 per cent of respondents said, “High heels oppress women. They objectify women as mere sex objects while causing lasting damage to their feet and ankles but nearly half (49 per cent) of the women said they empower them.
They do look great but not everyone can actually walk in heels. I will admit I only wear my really high heels when I know I am going to a place where I can sit down immediately (it makes it extremely awkward when I have done this at weddings…that I am in.) Nancy Irwin, an L.A.-based doctor of clinical psychology, says while different women feel different when wearing heels — “Some feel sexy, powerful, more effective, able to be an equal to/compete with men. Others feel completely cramped, uncomfortable, and objectified” — they were invented, she says, to “slow women down. So they cannot move as quickly as men, so men can catch them, and also so women cannot surpass them. To put women at a disadvantage, sexually, professionally, and psychologically.”
Well flats do not slow women down. And though flats may not actually look as powerful they, in some ways, are more modern, says Brinkley. Flats represent the fact that women are constantly busy, constantly on the move, running from the boardroom to daycare and they cannot afford to be slowed down by a stilleto. “We have these lives that are complex and busy,” Brooke Jaffe, fashion director of women’s accessories at Bloomingdale’s told The WSJ. “We walk all day. And there’s an expectation that you’ll look polished.”
Plus, flats have evolved. I love a good ballet flat as much as the next girl because in the back of my head I still plan on being a ballerina but they don’t quite compare to the new breed of pointy-toe flats, some adorned with studs. Brinkley also notes many women’s flats are now literally dopplegangers of men’s footwear with smoking slippers and loafers being all the rage right now.
Workplace fashion blogger Marion Green told The Grindstone:
“A ballet flat will never quite carry the professional oomph inherent in a great high heel. However, if a flat is edgy enough (through the use of strong material, pointed toe, details) then it could carry a professional muster that is unique.
There are plenty of high heels on the market that are comfortable for everyday wear. That said, if you need to walk four blocks to your next meeting, a stylish flat is an attractive alternative.
Women will never stop buying heels but flats are becoming more acceptable in the boardroom. “I would be Imelda Marcos if I didn’t have bad knees,” says Patty Edwards, principal and chief investment officer of Trutina Financial in Bellevue, Wash. The negative affects of heels on not only the foot and the leg but the entire body would probably convince anyone to at least try a flat. Even Sarah Jessica Parker who pranced around in New York as Carrie Bradshaw for six seasons (making the rest of us think this was normal) admitted she has ruined her body.
Brinkley says it will take some time for the power flats movement to really catch on but as more executive women wear them, the more it will help. For wearing flats to work Brinkley suggests:
- Pants should be hemmed shorter than for a heel. Cropped or ankle-length pants are ideal.
- For skirts, narrow should be the rule. “Think of the way Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has worn them since marrying her much-shorter husband, the former president of France—often with slim pants or a trim skirt or dress that elongates the body,” she said.
This post originally appeared at The Grindstone.
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