Men in heels
Yes, seriously – that seems to be the new fashion trend
Only a few months ago I had blithely announced in this column that women were the only suckers for high heels, mincing around in vertiginous stilettos and clunky wedges. There was a reason, I said, why the only shoes that men ever made a fetish about were trainers – comfortable, lightweight and made for speed. And any designer who tried to sell them the kind of punishing high heels that women wear on a daily basis would be laughed out of the business.
Well, now I stand (in my own two-inch kitten heels, which are thankfully back in fashion) corrected. Apparently, the latest trend in men’s fashion is high heels. Of course, these are not the kind of high heels that any woman would deign to recognise. Stacked just a few inches high and designed to hide beneath the fall of a well-cut trouser, these are styled for discretion rather than valour. These are not flashy heels meant to catch your eyes; they are meant to be near-invisible, granting a tactful (and tactical) advantage of a couple of inches to its wearer.
Personally, I blame Nicolas Sarkozy. The French President is disconcertingly self-conscious about being only 5 feet 5 inches (which makes him an inch shorter than that other famous French short man, Napoleon Bonaparte). And the acquisition of a glamorous supermodel wife in Carla Bruni, who is a full five inches taller than him, has made matters worse. Not only is the willowy Bruni banned from wearing heels while appearing alongside her husband (though I am sure there are worse fates than living your life in Dior ballet pumps) but Sarkozy himself gets his shoes custom-made to add a discreet heel to each pair.
But perhaps, I shouldn’t be too harsh about poor little Nicolas. It can’t be easy being the only world leader who has to stand on a bench while addressing the media alongside Barack Obama so that his head does not disappear behind the lectern. Or to have the British Chancellor George Osborne remove a stool from behind a podium, referring to it disparagingly as the Sarkozy box. Or even to cope with reports that the British Prime Minister joked about ‘hidden dwarves’ while referring to a photograph of himself and Sarkozy.
If you think about it, it is probably daily humiliations like these that lead to the small man syndrome, where short men try to over-compensate by being more aggressive and truculent. That’s probably why Napoleon felt compelled to conquer the world (well, okay, Europe) and why Sarkozy himself loses his temper so spectacularly so often (or why he surrounds himself with short people while on stage, so that he appears taller by comparison).
But whatever you might think about Nicolas and his obsession with appearing just a few inches taller, you have got to give him credit for one thing: making it okay for men to wear high heels. Until now, high heels for men were the stuff of drag-queen dressing, being restricted to distinctly campy circles. They were famously worn by the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, which says it all really. Or they featured in the menswear collections of such glam-rock designers like Gareth Pugh.
But now high heels for men have gone mainstream. Status heels, in which a heel of 1 and 1/4 inch is visible to the eye while another 1 and ½ inch of heel is hidden within the shoe, are now worn by short men across the globe without a hint of embarrassment.
I am pretty sure that these ‘status heels’ have also been pressed into duty in the wardrobes of such Indian actors as Salman Khan and Aamir Khan, who could do with a boost in the height department. After all, if Tom Cruise can work a stacked heel on the red carpet, alongside his statuesque wife, Katie Holmes, why should our stars be caught out short? (Okay, bad pun, I know.)
We all know the stunts that male stars pull to ensure that they don’t look shorter than their female co-stars in the movies and at public events like premieres. They stand a couple of steps above on a staircase so that they tower above the taller ladies. While shooting in long shot, they make the women walk alongside in a little trench so that they appear taller in comparison. They stand on a bench while filming close-ups so that they gain a few inches.
And now, like Nicolas Sarkozy, they can wear high heels as well.
But it’s not just stars and celebrities who seem gladdened by the arrival of high heels for men. Most of the men of my acquaintance are quite taken by the idea of gaining a couple of inches as well. They can now stand taller beside their wives/girlfriends, they can look their boss in the eye, they can look down on their children like the superior beings they undoubtedly are. And everyone will look at them differently too.
Well, at least that’s how the theory goes. All research into the subject suggests that taller men do better in life than their shorter counterparts. They get better jobs, are promoted more often, make more money, marry better looking women, have more children, are better respected in society.
And if high heels can help them achieve all this, then how could you possibly grudge them a pair of ‘status heels’ to add to their status?