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Low and behold: Rise of flats gives heels the boot

Trainers, ballets and sandals have consigned the awkward stiletto to the back of our wardrobes as we refuse to step out of our comfort zone post-lockdown, writes Meadhbh McGrath

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The shape recalls 1990s and early Noughties looks, and works particularly well with printed slip dresses, as seen recently on Emily Ratajkowski. Photo: Gotham/GC Images

The shape recalls 1990s and early Noughties looks, and works particularly well with printed slip dresses, as seen recently on Emily Ratajkowski. Photo: Gotham/GC Images

GC Images

The shape recalls 1990s and early Noughties looks, and works particularly well with printed slip dresses, as seen recently on Emily Ratajkowski. Photo: Gotham/GC Images

When was the last time you wore a pair of high heels? March, maybe even earlier? Once the country locked down, they were relegated to the back of the wardrobe, usurped by trainers, ballet flats and slippers. But then the country began to open up, and while we started heading out again, the heels stayed put.

With many still working from home and Government guidelines limiting social outings to garden parties or a socially distant restaurant meal, we have yet to step out of the comfort zone. It comes as little surprise, then, that our shopping habits have reflected the move away from heels.

"Heels have been on the demise for years and if anything, Covid has accelerated this change," says a spokeswoman for Arnotts. Flats and sliders continue to be popular with customers, while fashion trainers such as the cult favourite Veja were the big seller during lockdown and post-reopening.

"High heels have gone completely," affirms Maria Hetherington, manager and buyer at Greenes Shoes, an Irish company based in Donegal, with six stores across the country. "We're not selling very many at all. Since the last phase, the Communions are starting again, so we might sell the odd one, but there's been a total shift away from heels. It's all flats."

Shelly Corkery, Brown Thomas Fashion Director, observes that the current priorities for shoppers are "comfort and practicality".

"When the pandemic forced us all to remain at home, our wardrobe needs shifted: trainers, flats and slides were all the go-to," she says. "I think some of these trends will remain for quite some time."

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Naked sandal, Zara €39.95

Naked sandal, Zara €39.95

Trainers, Veja €125, BT

Trainers, Veja €125, BT

Ugly sandal, Birkenstock x Proenza Schouler €240, Birkenstock.com

Ugly sandal, Birkenstock x Proenza Schouler €240, Birkenstock.com

Trainers, New Balance €75, Greenes Shoes

Trainers, New Balance €75, Greenes Shoes

Party sandal, Una Healy €32 sale price, Greenes Shoes

Party sandal, Una Healy €32 sale price, Greenes Shoes

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Naked sandal, Zara €39.95

During the red carpet hiatus, celebrities have largely chucked the heels too - when Kate Middleton made an appearance in soaring navy stilettos earlier this month, the sight seemed almost a throwback, a relic from the 'before times'. Instead, we've become used to seeing Ana de Armas in simple white tennis shoes on her frequently photographed walks with boyfriend Ben Affleck; Alexa Chung in flat velvet Mary-Janes on Instagram; or Kate Moss cycling in her favourite black ballet pumps. Even Victoria Beckham, who famously said she "can't concentrate in flats", recently told The Guardian that there have been "definitely no heels" in her lockdown look. As the nation goes low, we take a look at the key styles of the season.

 

The trainer

Well, this one is obvious. A spokeswoman for Kurt Geiger notes that trainers were its biggest footwear category during lockdown, growing more than a third on the previous year, and that they have continued to be strong sellers since restrictions eased.

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Ballet pump, Cos €115

Ballet pump, Cos €115

Flatform, Cecilie Bahnsen, €335 sale, Havana

Flatform, Cecilie Bahnsen, €335 sale, Havana

Flatform, & Other Stories €69

Flatform, & Other Stories €69

Naked sandal, Topshop €29 sale

Naked sandal, Topshop €29 sale

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Ballet pump, Cos €115

The aforementioned Veja, an ethical French brand that creates shoes from recycled plastic bottles and wild Amazonian rubber, counts Emma Watson, Katie Holmes and Meghan Markle among its fans, and its minimal silhouettes and sophisticated colourways look just as good with denim cutoffs as a printed midi.

The most popular colour for trainers this summer, according to Hetherington from Greenes Shoes, is pink.

"Trainers are still huge, we sold an awful lot in a soft blush colour," she explains. "People are definitely looking for value for money and they want items they can wear again - they want a nice pair of trainers they can wear with jeans that will also go with a pretty floral dress if they wanted to get a little bit dressed up. They might have worn heels before with those, but there's been a move away from heels altogether."

 

The ballet flat

This style is a classic, but it's also having a moment, with MatchesFashion.com reporting sales are up 60pc year on year. The quintessential plain round-toe pump, topped with a little bow, is a timeless staple, but if you find those a bit precious, there are modern iterations worth trying.

On the catwalk, Simone Rocha showcased satin pumps with metal studs, laced over socks, while Rejina Pyo proposed a square-toed ballet flat with a high vamp. You'll find a more affordable version at COS, available in black, orange and off-white. These offer an antidote to the vivid maximalism that has taken hold in the last couple of years, and will pair nicely with linen dresses, jumpsuits and shorts for a breezy summer look.

 

The naked sandal

Much like the barely-there sandals beloved by influencers and Instagram models, only flat. The delicate-heeled versions, seen on the catwalk at The Row and on the high street just about everywhere else, were the must-have shoe of summer 2019. For this year, the style is similarly minimalist and strappy, minus the stiletto. The shape recalls 1990s and early Noughties looks, and works particularly well with printed slip dresses, as seen recently on Emily Ratajkowski.

 

The flatform

For some real Noughties nostalgia, there's the return of the flatform. It's been around in various forms ever since, but the latest revival is rooted in late 90s and 2000s style. Many of the new breed even have a divisive thong - The Row's chunky Ginza flip-flops are an Insta-hit. Topshop and & Other Stories offer wallet-friendly versions of the updated thongs in sleek black leather, which look anything but tourist-y.

Thong or not, the flatform is a gift for shorter women who are still eager to add a bit of height, without the need for blister plasters. Cecilie Bahnsen's embellished sandals look gorgeous with a tiered dress or a relaxed pair of trousers. For a budget option, look to Teva's elevated styles for a practical yet fashionable solution.

 

The ugly sandal

Birkenstocks have been the footwear success story of lockdown, with UK department store Selfridges reporting a 140pc increase since March. Irish shoppers are just as enamoured, says Hetherington. "We've sold a huge amount of Birkenstocks - that type of sandal, with the two straps, has been really strong this year," she explains. "We had a nice metallic gold one that flew out the door straight away."

Luxury designers have caught on to the appeal of Birkenstocks too, and the German brand's collaborations with the likes of Rick Owens and this year's partner, Proenza Schouler, have proven a sell-out success - at nearly four times the price of the standard Arizona. You don't need to splash out though - a classic brown pair is ideal for wearing around the house, in the garden or with a flirty summer dress.

 

The party sandal

While we may have furloughed the heels, we're still keen to get dressed up, and Hetherington notes that fancy flat sandals have taken the place of the usual party shoes. "We've sold a lot of flat sparkly sandals and strappy sandals, maybe with a leopard print trim on it, some diamantés or a bit of bling to jazz it up a little bit," she says. "That's the move away from heels - people are still dressy, but in flats they can wear again with jeans or a nice skirt. The purchase is to get something they can wear with different items, rather than getting a different pair of shoes for each item."

Pop singer Una Healy's range is a standout, mixing neutral tones with flashes of neon and snakeskin details.

But as weddings slowly resume and the prospect of a night out seems almost within reach, will we be ditching them for heels once more, or is this a trend with legs? Hetherington thinks so. "We're buying now for next summer and the way things are going, it'll be not very many heels at all," she says.

Shelly Corkery takes a different view: "I think gradually the high heel will eventually find its way back, be it for special occasions and weddings or simply for that amazing confidence a stiletto can give."

Irish Independent