High heels: Up, up and away!
Health warnings be damned -- heels are getting higher and higher, writes Deirdre Reynolds
It's weather for ice-skates, not stilettos -- but that isn't stopping girls here from splashing out on perilous party heels. Designer shoe brand Kurt Geiger has just revealed that sales of its staggering six-inch heels quadrupled this year.
But even those stilts seem positively down-to-earth compared to the latest death-defying footwear trend -- the towering nine-inch Sky Heel.
Inspired by stacked celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, British shoe retailer Parmars is set to launch the Sky Heel next year -- the most vertiginous heel ever to hit the high street.
Meanwhile, 7-inch '70s-style wedges are one of the hottest fashion forecasts for Spring.
With each centimetre of heel height bumping up the cost of a shoe by around 20%, until now only A-list designers such as Christian Louboutin and their famous fans including Victoria Beckham dared dabble in such dizzying footwear.
Retailing at under €100 however, the Sky Heel is bringing extreme footwear to the masses.
Designed to arch the back, thrust out the bum and lengthen legs -- transforming women into living, breathing Barbies, protests over their practically entirely miss the point.
"Shoes are better than underwear at transforming the shape of your body and the higher the heel the bigger the impact," says Rebecca Farrar-Hockley, creative director of Kurt Geiger.
"Fashionistas want to replicate the look of their favourite celebrities and models and if one of our shoes is seen on a show like The X Factor then there is an immediate surge in sales. We are seeing heels getting even higher in the run up to the party season."
Stylistas certainly aren't running scared of the ankle-trembling trend.
When pint-sized pop princess Kylie sported a pair of 7-inch Christian Louboutin's on The X Factor recently, the black 'Bridget's Back' shoe-boot flew off shelves -- despite their £2,325 price tag and the fact that she very nearly took a tumble on stage.
The world's first high heels date back to another diminutive royal though.
In the mid-16th Century, 5 ft Queen of France Catherine de Medici reputedly commissioned a cobbler to make her a pair of heels in order to give her the edge over her husband Henry's taller mistresses.
Her new-found wiggle made them a hit among fashionistas of the French court.
However, it wasn't until four centuries later that the stiletto as we know it was born.
"Although there is some dispute over who made the very first stiletto, Roger Vivier's collection for Dior in 1954 really captured the world's attention," says Caroline Cox, author of Stiletto and How to be Adored: A Girl's Guide to Hollywood Glamour.
"The engineering breakthrough came about in 1953, when a technique was devised using a metal spigot to reinforce the slimmest of heels."
With a waft of power and sex, high heels have unsurprisingly been subject to spates of Small Man syndrome over the years.
Early Puritan settlers in Massachusetts forbid them for their sexiness -- and any woman caught wearing kinky shoes could be tried as a witch for using her 'powers' to ensnare a man.
While just last year, trade union bosses in Britain proposed a motion to outlaw stilettos in the workplace because they're sexist and pose a health and safety hazard.
In the wake of the French Revolution, Napoleon banned high heels on the grounds of equality -- nonetheless, Marie Antoinette insisted on tottering to the guillotine in her favourite pair.
It's a testament to the type of complex love women have for their heels.
No ban has ever stuck -- and when Sex and the City heelaholic Carrie Bradshaw confessed she'd blown $40,000 on designer shoes, most women were jealous not judgmental.
Presenter Holly Willoughby boasted of keeping her heels on during sex and Victoria Beckham famously said she "can't concentrate in flats" -- but with even Lady Gaga struggling to remain upright in her fetishistic 10-inch heels, what hope is there for the rest of us?
"Chiropractors have seen an increase in sprained ankles and lower back pain as heels have gradually gotten higher and higher," says Dr Attracta Farrell of the Chiropractors Association of Ireland. "There is little or no grip in high heel shoes and in this weather, girls who insist on wearing them are likely to take a tumble."
One recent study revealed it takes just 34 minutes to go from 'wow' to 'ow' in skyscraper heels -- not to mention long-term side effects like bunions, hammer toe, shin splint and nerve damage.
Despite being painfully aware of the dangers, women here are refusing to hang up their high heels.
Like bunion-ridden Posh Spice who revealed she's happy to suffer for her fashionable footwear, nine out of 10 women vowed to "never" stop wearing the shoes which make them feel more glamorous, confident and attractive to men, according to a survey by Debenhams.
"Irish women are very resistant to flat shoes," agrees Dr Farrell, who runs her own Athenry chiropractic clinic, "but the detrimental effects of wearing high heels are endless.
"Not only are you more likely to fall and break your ankle, I also see foot conditions like Morton's neuroma, back dysfunction and knee joint damage associated with stilettos all the time."
"If you must wear a heel, limit it to three inches at most."
With heels three times that height on the way, it remains to be seen if women limping home on a Saturday night will still agree with Marilyn Monroe -- who once purred: "I don't know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot."