High heels ready to stomp out Crocs, Birks

After more than a year of staying home, consumers are itching to step out in style and retailers are gearing up for the demand

PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • As she dressed for her 26th birthday recently, Ms Cleo Pac Monrose focused on making a statement.

The podcast marketer for Spotify flicked the dust off her party clothes and the high-heeled lavender pumps she had been hoarding since just before lockdown.

Slipping the shoes on, she felt unsteady at first. "It was like a whole new role for my feet. We haven't been here in a while," she said. She soon regained her bearings.

"It's kind of like riding a bike," she said. "You get right back up."

Wait. Was it not only a moment ago that shoppers were lamenting - or cheering, take your pick - the sorry demise of stilettos and skyscraper heels, ditching their party shoes during lockdown for the comfort of sneakers and clogs?

High-heeled shoes were at the point of flatlining, industry pundits fretted, teetering on the edge of extinction.

Fast-forward a few months to find those consumers making a sharp sartorial pivot: trading comfort and function for the joy of dressing up. They are itching, after more than a year of confinement, to step up their style game in towering heels.

"People are so tired of these comfy, sloppy outfits," said Mr Daniel Harris, a freelance fashion consultant in Kingsport, Tennessee.

"We've gone through a year and some change of everybody being holed up in the house. Now we're popping on those heels again and going out."

Amen to that, professional trend watchers say. Markdowns of high-heeled shoes have dipped in recent months, one indication that those who can afford them are snapping up "heels" at full price, said Ms Sidney Morgan-Petro, head of retail and buying for WGSN, a trend forecasting service in New York.

Last year was an anomaly, so it may be too soon to call this a boom, she added. "But high-heeled shoes are having a moment right now."

Google searches of "high heels", one reliable indicator of demand, have climbed in recent weeks, as consumers presumably scoured the marketplace for shoes to wear to weddings, proms, graduations and other formal events.

The fashion glossies, whose business it is to drive sales, seem especially keen to give heels a boost.

"I certainly have missed flexing a statement outfit and wearing something uncomfortable, just for the sake of the look," Mr Christian Allaire wrote in April on Vogue.com, promoting an inventory of slinky tops, corsets and, of course, stilettos.

"Beauty is pain, after all," he argued without irony.

Ms Ileana Zambrano hardly needed such a push. Prepping for dinner last week at Morandi, a popular New York City trattoria, she broke out her Jimmy Choo sandals.

"I couldn't wait to dress up and wear them again," she said. "I don't care if I can't walk."

Luxury brands are betting on a continued resurgence.

"Women have missed the joy of dressing up," said shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, who seems bent on cheering a new generation of Carrie Bradshaws, unveiling new stores in East Hampton, New York, and on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

"Women cannot be without their high-heeled shoes," he insisted. "They never grow bored."

Open for business after a two-year hiatus, the shops will be stocked accordingly with calf-leather pumps and sandals, and colourful styles in silk moire.

Four-inch heels have been a company mainstay, said Ms Kristina Blahnik, the brand's chief executive. "But we're bringing back our five-inch heels, which we haven't done in years."

To some, four extra inches and even higher "skyscraper" heels remain synonymous with authority.

Ms Sharon Graubard, a founder and the creative director of MintModa, a trend forecasting firm in New York, said: "When Kamala Harris strides down the halls of Congress in her high heels, those shoes, like men's neckties, signal professionalism. People returning to work, even if it's only for two or three days a week, will want to make the same effort."

But frivolity is another driver of sales, keeping Mr Will Cooper, a senior vice-president and general merchandise manager of shoes, bags and accessories at Saks Fifth Avenue, bullish on heels.

"Over the last months the business has really accelerated," he said.

Coveted brands include tall sandals from labels including Christian Louboutin, Aquazzura, Amina Muaddi and Bottega Veneta.

Certainly for some, the Crocs and Birks of recent months represented nothing so much as giving up.

A fashion die-hard, Ms Monrose resorted - while working from home - to strolling in her bedroom wearing her lavender pumps.

"I had been wanting to wear them for so long," she said. "When I put them on, I felt like a little kid again, playing in my Disney princess costume drawer."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2021, with the headline 'High heels ready to stomp out Crocs, Birks'. Subscribe