In 1988’s Working Girl, Melanie Griffith’s transformation from ambitious, working-class secretary to gutsy, rule-bending exec includes ditching her trusty Reeboks for a pair of black patent-leather pumps. In the 25 years since, no shoe style has come close to matching the high heel’s reputation for conveying power in the boardroom.
But last fall, designers like Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang sent models striding confidently down fall runways wearing a series of bold, flat-soled slippers and oxfords. The Wall Street Journal’s Christina Binkley was quick to annoint them the new “power flats.” Arianna Huffington retweeted her. A trend was born.
It was true, however, that a movement was afoot. Even labels whose names have become synonymous with skyscraper heels have been getting noticed for their flats. Manolo Blahnik debuted a pink suede brogue. Jimmy Choo released an animal-print slipper. And Christian Louboutin, whose pumps are as famous for their nose-bleed-inducing heights as for their iconic red soles, released a series of metal studded ballet flats. Meanwhile, early “power flat” adopters included French First Lady Carla Bruni, British “it girl” Alexa Chung and musician Janelle Monáe. Women have long stashed a pair of flats in their bag, “just in case.” Now the flat is threatening a coup.
According to Erin Cerrato, director of women’s footwear at Holt Renfrew, today’s flats are moving away from the scrunchy ballerina look popular in past years. More formal, menswear-inspired smoking slippers and pointed skimmers are proving sellers. But Cerrato admits that heels—usually in the three-inch range—remain Holts’ biggest category.
“There’s something a little bit more intimidating about a woman who can walk in heels in the office,” says April Wozny, who has worked as publicist in the fashion business. Wozny says she always wears heels to work at a talent management agency (at least two inches but never more than four). Working in an office where client meetings are common, she says she’s expected to dress well. “I feel that much more powerful in heels.”
That connection between power and high heels has deep roots. Catherine de’ Medici is often credited with popularizing heels in Europe. And many believe Marie Antoinette clicked up to the guillotine in a pair of pumps. But it turns out those oft-repeated anecdotes are bunk, says Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator at Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum. “It’s a symbol of hyper-sexualized femininity,” she says. “Now it’s being posited as a woman’s power tool. But I think history has shown that the power being discussed is a woman’s sex appeal or desirability, not how much they’re changing the world.”
So where does that leave the power flat? It at least says that true power is in the sole of the beholder. And if woman are unsure, they can always keep a three-inch heel in the office. You know, just in case.
Monika Warzecha lives in Toronto and is newly in love with a pair of leopard-print flat.
Also, check out Flare magazine’s, 9 Power Flats To Get You Moving.