I’m not big on compromise. Generally, I prefer to go for all or nothing, than something in between. Kitten heels don’t make me look twice… either be flat, or be a high-heeled shoe. This thing that is a kind of stunted stiletto seems neither here nor there.
I also have a love-hate relationship with authority… sometimes I’m really annoyed by someone’s pointless infractions, even if the rule itself is dubious. Yes, I mean you, people who won’t turn their phone off when the aircraft door closes. Just do what you’re told, willya? On the other hand, sometimes I really take it amiss when I have to do something and the reasons are absurd to me. I read something recently where someone was hankering after the days when a low, block heeled shoe was acceptable office / lawyer attire. Apparently they “have” to wear high heels: it’s expected as part of their employment – and they are regularly uncomfortable because of it. My reaction was “Screw that!” I’ll accept needing to dress smartly, and depending on your client, needing to dress in a way that makes them comfortable with you. But for a corporate or law job, interfering with the height of my heels would be completely out of order to me – and frankly, all out of kilter in comparison to the importance of competence. If I wear a super high shoe, and choose to take the pain, it’s because I want to, not because someone else tells me I should!
So when I absorbed this remark of “I wish I could still wear those low block heels” I exclaimed “Really! I never stopped!” Plus this season it seems that the low block heel is THE high-fashion choice. So you can have comfort and be on trend at the same time – once your eye adjusts to the shape. If you’ve been looking at five-inch heels for the last ten years, anything else is going to look a little stunted at first.
The high-end inspiration for this trend for SS2013 starts with Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton. The super-pointy toe makes me nostalgic – in high school I lived in pointy ballet flats, the pointier the better. I also like the silhouette of the narrow heel set at the extreme rear of the foot,the brogue details, and the cylindrical heels with the mary-jane styling. (Images from Style.com and Elle.com)
When I came to evaluate the accuracy of my “I never stopped wearing them” statement, it turns out to be a lie. I have a lot of flat lace ups, drivers and assorted flat shoes, and a variety of high-heeled pumps, wedges and boots. I have only three pairs that approximate to low block heels, and they are all more than six years old.
There are these brown patent Stuart Weitzman shoes. I bought these because the patent has a kind of foil effect underneath the shine – it reminded me of the wrapping on a Quality Street chocolate. But in general, I would admit that these are fugly. They were bought because I needed something in that colour to fug up an outfit that otherwise felt too pristine to me.
Then there are these black leather, square-toed lace-ups from Pied a Terre, which I’ve had for around fourteen years! I think of these as my “district nurse” shoes. Again, bought to add a savoury fugliness, especially to a long sweater dress.
Last there are these rather twee pumps from Bally. These I bought for the days when, perversely, I want to pretty something up rather than fug it down. They came in a high version and a low one, and I went for the low one because I was commuting quite a bit by train, so they were good for the walking. These are barely a block heel – they’re more like a chunky curved heel.
And that’s it!
Since I still have long term needs for shoes that I can walk some distance in, maybe I should take advantage of the trend for low block heels while it lasts. You know they’re going to be gone before we know it.
So last night I set out online to look for low block heel shoes. The target was:
- a block heel with minimal curvature
- one to two inches in height, so no ballet flats with a 1/2 inch heel
- a closed toe
- in a feminine style – so no brogues, loafers or oxfords
- ideally with some interesting detail – toe shape, strap, buckle, etc
I can report back that rumours of this being a huge trend are premature! Maybe it’s a “grower”, like the velvet slipper trend – first it was models, then people who like to emulate models – now there are dozens of them all over the internet. I started at Luisa via Roma. Low block heels have totally passed their buyers by. The site is crammed with Lanvin ballet flats and wicked heels by Saint Laurent Paris, Casedai and Sergio Rossi. So if you love a stiletto, you don’t have to be afraid – they’re not going to vanish any time soon.
After Luisa via Roma I combed Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Saks, and the pickings were still very slim. The best choice seems to be at Saks. I’d like to spend less than a Saks shoe purchase would normally require, so I moved on to Stuart Weitzman, Russell and Bromley, LK Bennett, United Nude, Hobbs… basically anywhere I could think of that might do a conservative shoe, since the high end department stores had mostly failed me. A fashion writer at The Guardian has described these low heels as “nan shoes”, because when someone sees them they often say “Oh, my nan wears shoes like that.” (nan = grandmother). Stuart Weitzman is usually well stocked with “nan shoes” year in and year out – because it is where your nan goes for shoes if she has a bob or two. Even Weitzman has very few low block heels so far this year.
Clockwise from top left
Zigzag leather and suede shoes – Nicholas Kirkwood via Saks (US$695)
Red leather mary-jane shoes - Marc Jacobs (US$645, also in black and pale beige)
Black suede shoes - Stuart Weitzman (US$298, also in beige, cola, black nappa and black patent)
Two-tone leather shoes – Salvatore Ferragamo via Saks (US$350)
Clockwise from top left
Cream textured leather shoes – Repetto via Net-a-Porter (US$340)
Tassel loafers – Topshop (US$136)
Orange jewelled loafer – Miu Miu via Barneys (US$850)
Colourblocked shoes – Fendi via Saks (US$695)
I think if I really wanted a pair of low shoes for work, I’d go with the Stuart Weitzman ones. Although they are extremely boring, they have an austere quality about them that I like. Since I found so few shoes that I liked even a little bit, I included some from Topshop, even though I never go to Topshop any more. I find that things there look OK in photos, but often feel cheap in reality, and most of their clothes are cut for somebody who is a very different shape than I am. All the others are way too much money – I would have to like them a lot, lot more, to fork out for them.
There was a time when none of my shoes cost me more than US$100, but these days I find buying lower-price shoes is a false economy for me, unless it’s something like Converse. I just won’t wear them if they don’t feel as nice as other shoes that I already own. If I needed to find something like these below $100 I would try Zappos, who have a few from Nine West that don’t seem to be on the store’s website, and maybe Kurt Geiger‘s sale options.
If the Marc Jacobs ones don’t sell out and make it to the sales, I might buy a pair if they were quite heavily discounted. Other than those, I didn’t really find any that made me look twice – I’m still hankering for the pointy toes and rear-set heels of the runway. Since it’s only January, hopefully better options will appear later in the year, especially if this is a trend that spans a few seasons. In the meantime, those who want to throw off the tyranny of heels at work can now find reasons and opportunity to do it – but you may have to hunt for a not-too-grandmotherly version. We’re not inundated with low or mid-price options yet – unless you go all the way for a full-on “nan shoe” with no fashionable features! Still, you have nothing to lose but your blisters.