Have we finally embraced men in high heels? Sales have been on the upturn since 2017 and searches for â€œmenâ€™s heelsâ€ have grown by 30%, according to Lyst.co.uk.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the stiletto heel is being used to articulate what it means to be a man in the post-#MeToo era. In October, Strictly Come Dancingâ€™s Johannes Radebe memorably wore stiletto heels for a choreographed tribute to New Yorkâ€™s Ballroom scene, with Twitter users praising him for â€œshutting down toxic masculinity across the UK in 2 minutesâ€.
And earlier last year, the singer Sam Smith posted a photo of a heeled boot with the caption: â€œTonight I wore heels for the first time to an award show â€¦ There was a time when I thought Iâ€™d never ever ever be able to be myself like this in front of the industry or anyone.â€
The fashion designer Marc Jacobs has spent much of this year posting selfies in massive heeled boots too. â€œI think there is something incredibly refreshing about a male designer such as Marc Jacobs embracing wearing high heels,â€ said Andrew Groves, a professor of fashion design at the University of Westminster. â€œHigh heels have become a potent symbol of both power and status, and paradoxically both dominance and submission.â€ Indeed the stiletto heel on a man is still an image that provokes outrage; earlier this month a nude portrait of the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata wearing nothing but heels and a pink sombrero caused outrage in Mexico, with a spokesperson for protesters calling it â€œdisgustingâ€.
The growth of the male heel has expanded beyond the stiletto, as different types of heeled shoe have been embraced by fashion, with Gucci, Maison Margiela and Saint Laurent showcasing the Chelsea, Jacquard and split toe boots as well as heeled loafers. Male celebrities such as Shawn Mendes, Harry Styles and TimothÃ©e Chalamet have all experimented with a stack heeled shoe on the red carpet, taking cues from glam rock icons such as the New York Dolls, Kiss and David Bowie. The designer Laurence Dacade said the high boots she makes changes the gait of her customers so â€œthey feel more powerful and sexyâ€, adding that her biggest seller is â€œa David Bowie [inspired] bootie with a 6cm heelâ€.
The gender-blurring 70s are a significant reference point for designers this season, â€œparticularly in the way that masculinity was performed as something which could be both outlandish, decorative and still highly potentâ€, said Ellen Sampson, the author of the forthcoming book Worn: Footwear, Attachment and Affects of Wear. â€œThe 1970s saw a 1930s/40s revival which spurred interest in 1940s shoe shapes, particularly Ferragamo-style platforms, which recently inspired the Gucci platformâ€ .
A blurring of time, gender, race and shoe politics was also visible in last yearâ€™s â€œyeehaw agendaâ€ â€“ a black-consciousness-led update of the cowboy look â€“ which GQ called â€œthe biggest fashion trend to emerge from the internet this yearâ€. Yeehawâ€™s heeled cowboy boot silhouette has been embraced by designers such as Amiri, Haider Ackermann and CÃ©line and worn by the likes of Lil Nas X, Diplo and Post Malone. â€œCowboy boots have become a firm favourite among style influencers and itâ€™s not a surprise weâ€™ve seen an uplift in searches for them on eBay this year,â€ said Helen Riley, the fashion acquisition manager at eBay UK, which has had a 32% increase in searches since October. â€œI imagine this is a trend that will continue into the new year.â€ The impact of the Yeehaw has slyly undermined the ethos of the current US administration. â€œIn Trumpâ€™s America, the cowboy is such a symbolic representation of American ideals of masculinity that it has become ripe to be appropriated and subverted,â€ said Groves.
Paradoxically, this year also exposed womenâ€™s complicated relationship to the heel. Female workers in Japan battled against an edict of the compulsory wearing of heels at work and in August Womenâ€™s Wear Daily published a piece asking â€œhave sneakers made stilettos irrelevant?â€