At the start of her royal tour of Australia on October 16, Meghan Markle kicked off her Stuart Weitzman pumps for some Rothy’s woven flats to stroll South Melbourne Beach. Five days later, the mom-to-be, in her second trimester, got even sportier, slipping into a $150 pair of Veju sneakers to board a boat at an Invictus Games event in Sydney. Not only are the slipper-like moccasins and athletic footwear environmentally-friendly choices (they’re made of recycled water bottles and organic materials, respectively), but when Meghan makes a fashion statement, people around the world pay attention. With these choices, Meghan is sending women the message that they don’t need to weather the aches and pains of towering heels to look fabulous — or powerful.
Markle, as someone whose identity — as a biracial American woman who is divorced — doesn’t fit the profile of someone who’d historically be welcome into the upper echelons of the British nobility, seems well-poised to put her imprimatur on more royal traditions, like knocking high heels off their mighty throne. Fashion reporter Elizabeth Holmes, a ten-year veteran of the Wall Street Journal who muses on the royals’ style choices in her popular Instagram Stories series, “So Many Thoughts” (follow her at @eholmes), thinks Markle’s decision to walk closer to the ground the last few days is a welcome departure from the royal family’s long-enduring partiality for heels. (Women in the royal family tend to wear heels when photographed in public unless participating in casual or sporty activities).
“There’s a real opportunity here for her to help other women understand that they don’t have to wear heels to be chic,” says Holmes. “Personally, I hope she wears lower heels or flats as she gets further along in pregnancy,” she adds, recalling how swollen her own feet and ankles got as she progressed through her two pregnancies.
Alan Bass, DPM, a representative from the American Podiatric Medical Association and podiatrist in practice at Central Jersey Foot & Ankle Care in Manalapan, New Jersey, expresses similar sentiments. Stilettos, Markle’s usual shoe choice when in public, are particularly perilous, he says, referring to the countless metatarsal and ankle fractures they’ve caused his patients over his 25-year career.
The U.K.’s Lorraine Jones, a podiatrist at Chiswick Feet and 21-year member of the Council for the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, says, “Markle is setting a great example for pregnant women,” who, she says, are especially vulnerable to sprains, strains and falls. “Ligaments grow more lax due to surges in the hormones progesterone and relaxin in later stages of pregnancy, and this also makes your knees, ankles and feet more limber,” she says. For pregnant women, Jones recommends “footwear that secures with a lace, strap or velcro, has a shock absorbent sole, a supportive arch and a wide heel.” Bass advises women who can’t resist heels to opt for a wedge, a platform heel, and nothing higher than two inches.
But Holmes wagers that it’s not likely we’ll see Markle skipping out on heels too often, observing that even Queen Elizabeth II herself, at 92 years old, always wears heels in public (albeit a lower and sturdier variety) to maintain formality. Holmes argues that because of the ways that Markle is breaking tradition by virtue of her differences, she may be even more inclined to keep walking as tall as possible. Wearing heels to fit in with the other royal women, Holmes speculates, “places her into the royal family in a way that might make her feel more comfortable and confident.”
If the history of heels is any indication, changing attitudes toward the shoe are not out of the question. “Shoes: Pleasure and Pain,” a traveling exhibit organized by Victoria and Albert Museum in London, revealed that the heeled shoe originated in 15th-century Persia for men… in battle! (They secured soldiers’ feet in stirrups, according to a Teen Vogue piece.) Persians brought the heeled shoe to Europe, where it was quickly adopted by aristocrats to elevate their stature and formidability, which brings us to Holmes’s final point about how the royals can stand to bring their feet a little closer to the ground: “They’re slightly out of touch by always wearing heels, because who always wears heels anymore?” she asks. “All of them could benefit from wearing flats more often.”
Indeed, author and speaker Ann Shoket, the former editor in chief of Seventeen, argued in an op-ed for Thrive that young women’s ambitions run stronger than ever, but their symbols of success have changed. By embracing flats, Markle is helping show women the world over that heels are no longer the gold standard for female power.
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