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High Heels

Vivia Chen

April 25, 2011

Ladies, it's time to kick off those sky-high heels. The fashion forecast calls for chunky and kitten heels. It must be official because even The Wall Street Journal is reporting on it: Louboutin

On the spring runways--where perilous stilettos and platforms have ruled for seasons--designers such as ChloƩ, Stella McCartney and Valentino squashed, kitten-ized and gave chunky mod treatments to heels, resulting in truly cute (and truly comfortable) shoes.

Cute and comfy--is that what women professionals want in a shoe? Personally, I feel torn about the issue. Being petite, I've always counted on high heels or platforms to give me that extra three or four inch boost. At the same time, though, I've been a bit alarmed by the escalating heights of women's heels in recent years--particularly those by shoe designer Christian Louboutin, whose signature red-sole stilettos usually sport at least a five inch heel (see right). As any woman can tell you, teetering at such height is not only excruciating, but scary.

So shouldn't all women be celebrating that foot fashion is returning to sensibility?

Well, not every woman. Far from it. "Professional women divide into two tribes," explains Susan Scafidi, the director of Fordham's Fashion Law Institute. "Second-wave feminists who've metaphorically burned their high heels along with their bras, and third-wave women who embrace the option of towering over naysayers." Scafidi adds, "I'm firmly in the latter camp."

Ferragamo Indeed, wearing stilettos, rather than those low, sensible heels, has become accepted--maybe even expected--as part of the power look. But the question is how high can you wear them without looking like--well--another type of professional woman?

Corporette founder Kat Griffin, a former associate of Cahil Gordon, says "four-to five-inch heels are inappropriate for most professional women and most offices." However, the blogger of EverySixMinutes, a former associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, says female lawyers there favor Manolos, Jimmy Choos, Guccis and Louboutins, up to four-inches, though most wear three inch high heels.

But Scafidi, who zips around Fordham Law School in her five-inch Loubotin pumps, isn't so strict about the height limitation. For her, wearing high heels is not a matter of appropriateness or comfort; rather, it's all about power. "When I'm in heels, you can hear me coming," says Scafidi, adding that she likes "the elegance and authority of a polished black pump with a heel named after a weapon."

In fact, many women agree that a pair of high heels give them a sense of authority. "Heels make us feel confident," says EverySixMinutes.

SamEdelman But no one seems too excited about low heels or kitten heels (right). "The only kitten heels I like are the paws on a real kitten," says EverySixMinutes. "They make one seem insecure--afraid of the sex appeal of a high heel, but not confident enough to go for the comfortable flats." For Scafidi, high, high heels are the only way to go: "Why embrace mid-level mediocrity when you can soar to the heights, in footwear or in life?"

Readers, are you celebrating or mourning the demise of those towering high heels? How high is too high in your office?

Related posts: Ladies Who Wedge and Little Toe Peep.


Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected].

Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist

Photos: top (Louboutin slingback & platform); center (Ferragamo pump); bottom
(Sam Edelman peep-toe with kitten heel).



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Wow Vivia, it sounds like you have been the unfortunate victim of blatant Hight-ism.

All of my pants are hemmed to wear with my 4 inch heels. Suggestions on how to make them work for shorter heels without hemming them again?

I'm five feet six inches most people think i'm about five 8. I've always liked the kitten heels (2-3 inch heels) but won't wear anything over 4 inches.

I prefer lower heels or chunkier heels simply for the stability. I tend to have really weak ankles and high, thin heels A). are painful to walk in, and, B). have injury-causing potential.

"Sex appeal of a high heel"... really? Is there some of that?

AJ - it's not worth reading except for possible clues as to why all these chicks are not in the kitchen making me a sandwich.

I think stiletto heels look ridiculous on a lawyer and diminish her credibility. Your self-confidence should come from your brain power and advocacy skills, not your sex appeal. Save those high heels for your date night wardrobes. Power does not come from how loud your shoes are when you are walking down the hall.

Just because my feet prefer lower heels doesn't mean you can classify me as any #-wave feminist, thank you very much.

At 5'3", I've learned even the tallest shoe won't help much. I do believe heels are a necessary part of the professional outfit, but in my current gig, I stand on a hard courtroom floor for 6 hours a day and flats are the only way to survive. The answer is to find a gig back in Big Law or inhouse where a big aura does what stilettoes can't.

Wow Vivia, it sounds like you have been the unfortunate victim of blatant Hight-ism.

Kitten heels, chunky heels and flats all the way! I gave up high heels stilettos by the time I was 25. Comfort please!!!

I love this column. It's informative and entertaining and it's certainly the most fun thing I read on a daily basis. :-) I didn't know kitten heels are seen as ambivalent and this is good to know so I can understand how others would perceive me if I wore them.
My mother hates high heels and always taught me they are bad for health. After I grew up I found I'm comfortable in 1-2" heels because I have high arches. But I'm 5'9" - I don't need extra height. Once or twice I tried on 4" heels and didn't like being so tall!
I've been concerned about the rise in heel heights because of the health effects. Every woman should wear a heel height she is comfortable with not only in terms of fashion but physical comfort. If spike heels hurt you don't buy them, then when no one is buying them they will go away.
I'm an assistant and I've been accused of flirting when I wasn't at all - so I've decided at my next job to wear plain flat mary janes. I really am just there to work! Really!

While I understand the attraction of power heels, those shoes will deform women's feet over time. After a certain age, for most women high heels are nothing but painful. It would be a real breakthrough for women if we didn't feel the need to use pain to make ourselves powerful. That would show true self-confidence.

Nothing like putting on the Louboutins and towering over a sexist 5'8" partner. I'll never give them up for that reason alone. But also becasue I have over ten thousand dollars worth of shoes in my closet, all paid for by Big Law and bought because Big Law makes me so miserable.

So, heels, and the ensuing height, add to power. And, we can all agree, power leads to money.

Therefore, since men are taller than women by 7", obviously if there is a gender gap with respect to income, it is really a height gap.

Thank you for this article, Vivia ,and good riddance to the bogus gender gap articles. You aren't going to post any more bogus gender gap articles, are you? (sarcasm)

I can't believe I ever thought this column was worth reading.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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