Has the pandemic killed the power heel for women?

by May 31, 2022

 Has the pandemic killed the power heel for women?

There was a little piece of serendipity this weekend with the collision of three elements which made me wonder.


Given the crises in the modern world, you may be thinking that this is pretty superficial stuff for me to be focusing on and you are probably right. But bear with me, there is depth in my shallowness.

Since the pandemic started when most people worked from home there was a retail boom in what I call “emotional support” clothes in the “pyjamification” of work  to quote Andy Spence.  Soft and flexible. Shoes weren’t even in the picture  – literally, as they are simply not visible on a Zoom call. We also saw the huge demand to bring our authentic selves to the workplace which included moving away from pre-COVID restrictive dress codes.

Has this shift impacted women and their shoes?  You may even remember a time when a PwC employee was sent home for not wearing heels. That was 2016.


pandemic killed the power heel for women?


But first a little background. You may not know this but it was men who wore high heels throughout history until about 16th century and then (not unsurprisingly) they moved away from that fashion statement.

Louis XIV was famous as the king of heels. Under his reign, it was considered that the higher and redder the heel, the more powerful the wearer. However, he passed a law in 1670 that only the nobility should wear heel-shoes. The king used to wear shoes with red colour heels or soles. The members of his court were also allowed to wear red heels. So it seems that Christian Louboutin was not that innovative.

At that time women adopted masculine forms of attire by wearing heels which were narrower, ornamental, and higher than men’s heel-shoes. When men saw their fashion being feminised and high jacked, they stopped wearing heeled shoes.

Go figure. No sharing in that sandbox.


So here are the three things that happened to me which got me thinking if the pandemic killed the power heel for women.

1. Killer heels or power heels

The first was an old post I wrote in 2011 on killer heels resurfaced as they sometimes do, where I looked at whether high heels were an “irrational form of footwear”  (Elizabeth Semmelhack, author of The Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe)  or as per Kate Spicer of The Times claimed that women buy shoes for their “potency”, not their comfort.

In that 2011 post I created a poll where you can see a majority thought that high heels were indeed liberating and “essential business dress”.

2. Shoe shopping

I am not a shopper and the only item I won’t buy online are shoes which I need quite urgently for a wedding. So I ventured out to downtown Brussels on a shoe mission. Now admittedly I only went into one shop and tried on one pair of shoes, so this will not in any way be a serious survey,  but in that shop (it was a known brand) there was not one power heel. Not one. Shoe makers maybe think that high heels give more vertigo than verve.

3. Height bias

At the same time I came across an article from the American Psychological Association 

This is of course another way of penalising women as we are generally shorter than our male counterparts as you can see in this international table. So my questions around elevator pitch or elevated heel over a decade ago were spot on.

The renaissance of men’s heels

So where are we now? Is the pendulum turning with what seems to be a renaissance in men’s fashion for high heels.  Do we care even care that men could be destined for bunions, corns, callouses, shortening of the Achilles tendon, ankle fractures,  nerve damage, and arthritis?

This of course creates an interesting situation for women who receive of dozens of conflicting mixed messages every day, especially around the confusing and troublesome question of power high heels in the workplace. They could well become even shorter than their male colleagues.

I am left wondering if the majority of women still consider high heels to be the hallmark of power, or the badge of a person with more vanity than sense. Or has the pandemic killed the power heel for women…. but not for men?

Should we be reading anything into this at all? Perhaps the idea of what is professional dress code is shifting.

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Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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