Heels Vs. Flats: The Ultimate Shoe Challenge

It’s undeniable: flat shoes are back. So could a heel devotee learn to love loafers? And could a flat aficionado survive in stilettos? Here, two writers spend a week in another woman’s shoes.
Heels Vs. Flats: The Ultimate Shoe Challenge

HANNAH BETTS: High heel addict

 

High heels are my crack. I have won tennis matches in them, shovelled cow manure while wearing them, even scaled the lower reaches of the Matterhorn in the Alps in a dashing black velvet and diamanté number.

 

When people speculate on my height, they opt for around 180cm, which is the airspace I’ve been occupying for so long it feels like home – despite the fact that Mother Nature rendered me only 172cm. I have an old-fashioned hourglass figure – and I want an old-fashioned accessory to go with it. I crave the sinuous allure of a ’30s screen siren, or the ballsy bravura of a Helmut Newton glamazon – a look difficult to pull off when you’re clomping around in a pair of sneakers.

 

And yet, of late, my fixation has seemed outmoded. Fashion’s new mood is all relaxed shapes and sporty separates (lycra, anyone?) making the very thought of a crippling pump feel footballers’ wife-esque and just terribly passé.

 

Enter the flat. For autumn/winter 2014, Calvin Klein sent models down the catwalk in ethereal frocks juxtaposed with combat boots, and at Lanvin, brogues with silk dresses. Chanel did trainers, while Valentino, Saint Laurent and Miu Miu played about with strapped ballet pumps. The models may have been relieved; I was traumatised.

 

By clinging to my heels, I was starting to look frumpish. Then, marie claire suggested I trade in my beloved stilettos for flats in the name of journalism. I have never greeted a commission with more angst.

 

Day one

 

Refuseniks may claim that heels are painful, but that is nothing to the agony of having to pair my Chanel matador jacket with flats from cult London shoe label Bionda Castana for cocktails. They work sassily with the vibe and are terribly pretty: all ankle laces, ruby red and nude net. However, I feel reduced to the size of a festive elf. On the upside: I can escape home on foot.


 
Day two


What would a shoe challenge be without throwing a designer trainer into the mix? After all, we live in a time when the kaiser himself, Karl Lagerfeld, has paired jewelled tweed jackets with sneakers. In this spirit, I attempt Jimmy Choo trainers, which make my ankles vanish and my legs look podgily swollen. I feel insignificant and Hobbit-like. That said, my male friends have never been more attentive: plying me with drinks, bending down to whisper in my ear, steering me through crowds. “You’re less threatening smaller,” confides one towering male. I kick him with my brogue.

"I feel insignificant and Hobbit-like."

Hannah Betts

Day three


OK, I cheated. I was off to a fabulous party sure to be chock-full of gorgeous men and I needed the sass only heels can provide. I would apologise, but then I met a super-hot 193cm specimen, didn’t have to bite his knee to get his attention, and felt entirely vindicated. Journalism: nil; flirting: off the scale.

 

Day four


Cheery, but chastened, I resolve to play by the rules, despite feeling about as hot as a leftover cocktail canapé. “You have to learn to be sexy in a less obvious way,” admonishes an Alexa Chung-type friend, who only does flats. “Think gamine, think Audrey.” This is tough given my non-Hepburn clown’s feet, vast shoulders and E-cup bust only make sense when I’m being faux tall. Still, I’m starting to understand the proportions. If my flats are sleek and pointed, à la Rupert Sanderson’s crystal bedecked patent pair, and I hold myself correctly, I don’t look quite so much like a ’70s Soviet shot-putter.

 

Day five


“So you’re dressing for women now rather than for men?” snarls a catty colleague. I inform her that, as a feminist, I only ever dress for myself. Still, in my metallic Nicholas Kirkwood loafers, I am certainly at the same height as more women – and it’s a blast. We can drink and dance with abandon, compare notes about boys without being overheard, then sprint between parties should we get bored.

 

Days six & seven


I’ve cracked it. My Paul Andrew velvet slippers look amazing with my tux, while my evening sheath has rarely appeared more elegant than with Boden’s pointy, jewelled flats (I love them so much, I invest in four pairs). Finally, I feel feminine and, I admit it, cool. Damn it, I even end up pashing someone.

 

By the week’s end, I have saved on cab fares and experienced a certain ease that maybe, just maybe, translates as having more fun. My look evolved to become less obviously glam, more chicly carefree. But when has foot fetishism ever been about practicality? Back in my stilettos, I feel myself again, rather than some moody mini-me. I may opt for the odd pointed shoe in 2015, but – while my knees hold out – I’ll stick to walking tall.

 

VICTORIA MOSS: Flat shoe lover

 

Some women might look down at the line-up of Jimmy Choo, Sophia Webster, Rupert Sanderson and Bionda Castana heels, which crowded my living room floor, and squeal with joy. Not me. In my eyes, these shoes are just aesthetically pleasing instruments of torture which for the next week, at the behest of marie claire, would take the place of my cherished flats.

 

It wasn’t always this way. In my 20s I traipsed around from morning till night in all sorts of vertiginous heels. They made me feel that bit more grown up than my inner-shaky 20s confidence did. But I got bored of wobbling around in doorways while I changed into a heel to make a more fitting entrance into parties. Running (in a pair of Robert Clergerie platforms) late for a show at fashion week, I lost my balance and made a rather dramatic beeline for the pavement. Not very chic.

 

Luckily, as it turned out, fashion was thinking the same way as me. Seriously fit looking flats were appearing everywhere, offering myriad alternatives to a scruffy old ballet pump: Valentino Rockstuds, Fendi snakeskin brogues, Miu Miu loafers, which are perfect with a midi skirt, and I haven’t met a culotte that I couldn’t work with my Jérôme Dreyfuss sneakers.

 

Day one


Currently, my ideal party shoe would be a spangly Chanel trainer – not the glitter covered Jimmy Choo pointed stiletto, which I am trying to jam my foot into. This Cinderella does not so much go to the ball, as hobble in agony to the front door. I wrench them off, run outside in my bare feet and hail a cab. Heels back on, I grimace and make it into the pre-dinner cocktail party. I can’t bear to walk far, so stand on one spot and beckon people over to me like some sort of minor member of the royal family. After removing them, I can’t bear to put them back on so I say my goodbyes barefoot and hail another taxi home. So far, so expensive. 

"Currently, my ideal party shoe would be a spangly Chanel trainer"

Victoria Moss

Day two


Another party, but this time thankfully at home. It’s the perfect opportunity to road test the Sophia Webster giant jewelled platforms. They make me around 183cm so I tower over everyone, which is fun at first when I am in fabulous hostess greeting mode, but after a while I start to feel like a bean pole bearing a cocktail shaker. I am terrified about toppling over in them. (Never before has a pair of shoes made me fear a stiff breeze.) I change into a chic Alexander White pair of suede sandals, which lower me – and my anxiety levels – a bit. I last until 11pm, at which point I can take the burning of my soles no longer, plus everyone’s started dancing. I change into my slippers and join in.

 

Day four


Off for drinks and dinner. The restaurant we’ve chosen is a five-minute stroll from my front door, but tonight, undertaking that journey in my Bionda Castana fringed booties takes three times as long. Everyone else is very off-duty casual (I look wistfully down at my friend’s Adidas Stan Smiths) and so I feel slightly over the top with my heels on, despite the fact that these are actually the comfiest yet. I even manage to skip home in them. (Though that could have been the doing of the martinis ...)

 

Day five


The next evening I take my hangover to a party and accessorise it with another pair of Sophia Websters, this time a wonderfully theatrical pair of tiger-striped sandals. There is a lot of gasping over the shoes. They are rather wonderful looking things. My ego enjoys the attention, but after a couple of hours my poor, pained feet do not. All I can think about is taking off the shoes, as pretty as they may be. The bottom line: I am just not enjoying myself as much as I normally would.

 

Day seven


Ultimately, I know I don’t need to rely on a pair of shoes to make me feel confident or sexy or cool. Sure, there is something in the way a (manageable) heel makes you walk about that is fun (and conjures up images of strutting into boardrooms in a sort of Melanie Griffith Working Girl fantasy), but I work at home where my boardroom-strutting opportunities are distinctly limited.

 

Being as fickle as any self-respecting fashion lover, I would never rule anything out and, sure, if I fell in love with a pair of heels, maybe I’d give them another go. But you know what? I like being able to skip around a room uninhibited, and not having to take into consideration whether a soiree will have seats before accepting. And I like knowing that, for the time being anyway, I’m absolutely in step with the fashion world.