Tag Archives: Elizabeth Semmelhack

Women and work: Elevator pitch or elevated heels?

There is a reason they are called killer heels or stilettos!


A new spin on best foot forward . Where do you stand on high heels?

Women are the recipients of dozens of conflicting mixed messages every day, but none is more most confusing and troublesome than the question of those power high heels in the workplace. Are they the hallmark of a successful empowered business woman, or the badge of a person with more vanity than  sense?   Do they make us as physically vulnerable as the foot binding traditions in China,  only outlawed in the early 20th century, or create a career spring-board,  literally raising our visibility?

Men wore high heels throughout history until the 16th century and then (not unsurprisingly) they  moved away from that fashion statement,  as the trend became associated with sentimentality and a lack of education.  Elizabeth Semmelhack, author of  The Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe,  suggests that high heels are ” an irrational form of footwear,” while Kate Spicer of The Times claims that women buy shoes for their “potency” not their comfort. There is a reason they are called killer heels or stilettos!

In researching this article I have come across as much conflict as one might find at a Tea Party debate. Here are but a few arguments:

  •  A must have accessory.  Part of a career propelling, confidence  boosting,  power dressing wardrobe. Without these you are officially the office frump.  Some women are even having surgery  in order to wear these shoes,  such is their belief  in their value. Or is that possibly vanity or even stupidity? So do we replace our elevator pitch with elevated heels? Will slipping on our Jimmy Choos,  Louboutins or Manolo Blahnik’s make a difference?    Lea Goldman of Marie Claire  tells us what we already know:  offices are competitive places, quite often run by men.  Any boost women can get,  she maintains, is an advantage to bring women closer to men’s eye level. This veiw is supported by Tamara Mellon , Co-Founder of Jimmy Choo, but then she would wouldn’t she?
  • Bad for health. Should carry a government warning!   High heels result in bunions, corns, callouses, shortening of the Achilles tendon, ankle fractures,  nerve damage, and arthritis
  •  Good for health : strengthens core abdominal and pelvic muscles simultaneously. Reduces health risks: Professor Margaret Thorogood, from the Medical School at Warwick University, said . ” It is very unlikely  that the prolonged wearing of high heels presents a risk factor
  • Sexualising and demeaning, trading on sex appeal rather than innate abilities and skill set.  Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey,  believes that sky-high heels are just too sexy for most workplaces.  “High heels thrust out the buttocks and arch the back into a natural mammalian courting — actually, copulatory — pose called ‘lordosis, Rats do it, sheep do it … lions do it, dogs do it. … It is a naturally sexy posture that men immediately see as sexual readiness
  • Shows women as fashion slaves:  Kristen Schaal  tweeted that high heels are the” modern-day corset.

I was early for a meeting in Central London recently. I sat in the reception of a smart office building and watched hundreds of women arriving for work. Many were wearing trainers and sensible flat shoes with their city suits.  30 minutes later I saw the same women in the hallways, most striding purposefully down the 10 metre corridors, in their power business heels.  Fine today –  but at what cost tomorrow?

So where do you stand on the power heel? Can you really put your feet first and look after your career as well?