High heels have always been part of the workplace uniform for working women. But recent surveys show that we’ve reached a cultural tipping point where more and more women are rejecting the notion that being successful somehow requires them to teeter on sky-high stiletto heels.
In the last year, women’s sneaker sales increased by 37 percent, while high-heeled shoe sales dropped 12 percent, according to CBS News. This drop in sales wasn’t due to high prices or a lack of choices. In fact, about one-third of high heels were heavily discounted, and high heel inventory even rose 28 percent in that time, The Washington Post reported.
Rather, it seems that comfort and practicality have taken priority. Alexis DeSalva, retail and apparel analyst at Mintel, told The Post that women could be “going from yoga class to work, then from happy hour to pick up their kids,” and that kind of schedule isn’t conducive to wearing six-inch stilettos.
Katie Smith, director of retail analysis at Edited, told The Post that, even at work, women aren’t sitting at their desks all day. “We stand. We take the stairs. We walk to lunch. We’re constantly counting our steps, so it makes sense to wear comfortable footwear and clothing,” she said.
While men and women may face some similar demands and challenges at work, there’s a big difference in how they’re expected to dress for it — and how they’re judged (or not judged) for their choices. The new data suggests a shift in which women are increasingly claiming the right to wear what they want and not what society tells them to wear, whether that means going to work in sneakers or rewearing a dress to multiple events.
Connie Wang, Refinery29 senior features writer, dubbed the increased prevalence of casual work outfits a “Zuckerberg-ification of office culture” and a “cultural shift driven in part by millennials and money.” She told CBS that many women nowadays want to “get the most bang out of their buck” by purchasing a casual shoe they can wear all the time as opposed to an expensive pair of heels they can only wear on certain occasions.
This footwear change is also trickling into Hollywood. Actress Gal Gadot, who wore flats to the Wonder Woman premiere, told USA Today she wants to create a trend of “doing red carpets in flats.”
“I love wearing high heels – I think it’s beautiful, it’s sexy, whatever,” she said. “But at the same time, especially stilettos, it puts us out of balance. We can fall any minute. It’s not good for our backs. Why do we do it?”
Thrive Global Founder and CEO Arianna Huffington became a “passionate missionary for flats” after an injury while wearing heels forced her to parade around town in a clunky broken ankle boot.
When it comes to “heels, and dresses, and the hours and hours of time and effort we spend getting ready,” Huffington has urged readers to “think of what we could do with those hours — build businesses, spend time with our loved ones, sleep, change the world.”