Sales of High Heels Are Down, But Is Hollywood Giving Them Up?

Heels_Red Carpet - Getty - H 2018
Karwai Tang/WireImage

Sales of high heels dropped 12 percent last year, while sales of women’s sneakers rose 37 percent to $2.3 billion.

A story in The Washington Post last week trumpeted the alluring headline “High Heels Are The Worst and Women Are Finally Ditching Them” and backed their claim with a plethora of facts, tying the trend into workplace casualization and the latest wave of feminism.  

“Sales of high heels dropped 12 percent last year, while sales of women’s sneakers rose 37 percent to $2.3 billion, according to the NPD Group’s retail tracking service," says the Post piece, which points to the lace-up brogues and crystal-embellished ballet flats shown on the fall-winter 2018 Marc Jacobs runway as evidence of a shift, as well as Nike's new female-focused Unlaced limited-edition styles for lady sneakerheads.

Women are wearing style-savvy sneakers to work, dinner and beyond — but the trend has yet to cross over to the red carpet, save for some of young Hollywood.

Think 13-year-old Millie Bobby Brown pairing her pink sequin Calvin Klein dress with Converse Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers at the SAG Awards in January and 23-year-old Haley Lu Richardson wearing high-top Chucks with her floral Zimmermann frock at the red carpet premiere of the Magnolia Pictures film “Support The Girls” (in which she stars) at the SXSW Festival in Austin on Friday.  

While celeb stylist Jessica Paster says she mainly packed flats for Emily Blunt to wear at the premiere of “A Quiet Place” at SXSW (she and husband John Krasinski both star in the Paramount film that Krasinski directed), Blunt stepped out in heels on Friday. And the other stylists that THR asked to comment on the matter did not come up with any other noteworthy red carpet outings in sneakers or flats, save for Gal Gadot during her “Wonder Woman” press junket last May, which the Post also cited.

What they failed to mention is that Gadot’s flat-and-fancy Aldo sandals at the premiere and the flats that she donned for the entire week, cheered on by social media, were in large part due to the fact that she was suffering from a back sprain. Gadot told USA Today, “Considering my back, I figured it wouldn’t be a good idea. And also, I just wanted to be comfortable! It’s the biggest premiere of my life.” Gadot also admitted that she loves to wear high heels, albeit saying that she would like to make it a trend to do red carpet appearances in flats. But since then, she’s seemed to lean toward super-heels for her red carpet runs.

As further evidence of the trend, the Post notes that First Lady Melania Trump swapped her stilettos for white sneakers on her Hurricane Harvey trip last August — not exactly an earth-shattering move given her position and considering that she was criticized for hanging on to her heels while en route to the plane.

As much as we might wish that the Post story is true — in the name of comfort and in light of the power moves women have been making lately in Hollywood as part of the Times’s Up and #MeToo movements — the reality is that Hollywood doesn't seem ready to choose flats over heels on the red carpet any time soon. And, let's face it, a few extra inches of stiletto height can feel authoritative, too. 

While Paster (whose Instagram handle happens to be @highheelprncess) ticks off new red carpet-worthy flats that she loves by Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik and Gianvito Rossi, she stocks her kit with $15  Blue Emu numbing cream with Lidocaine, a secret weapon to dull the pain of standing in heels for hours.  Others stylists like Karla Welch (whose clients include Ruth Negga and Sarah Paulson) turn to cannabis cream for heel-induced pain relief. Whatever it takes.

Maybe the Cannes Film Festival, kicking off on May 8, will incite some new degree of flat-out on the red carpet.  There seems to be a lingering rebellion since the #flatgate scandal at Cannes — it was just under three years ago when some women were denied access to the screening of the film “Carol” due to their fashion indiscretion of wearing (gasp) flats, not to mention ankle boots and even platform heels that weren’t up to fashion par. The festival later confirmed their unwritten policy that high heels are obligatory.“That’s very disappointing, just when you kind of think there are these new waves of equality,” said Blunt, one of several stars to speak out. In protest, Julia Roberts walked the Cannes red carpet barefoot in 2016. Last year, Kristen Stewart kept the dissent going when she told THR, "If you’re not asking guys to wear heels and a dress, you can’t ask me either.”  

Celeb fashion stylist Philippe Uter outfitted Faye Dunaway in flats last year at Cannes: “She wanted to wear flats, so this was the first time I worked on an ‘official appearance’ with flat shoes. But on the carpet this year, for those who showed their legs, they were pretty much all wearing high heels. And I personally love a girl wearing high heels on the carpet; it gives her another attitude and body posture — a ‘je ne sais quoi’ strength and elegance. It also gives her more height, which is always a better silhouette with a long dress.“

More power to women, whatever height of heel they choose to wear. As Paster says: “If you want to wear a high heel because it makes you feel good, because it makes you feel hot, do it. But if you feel beautiful wearing a flat shoe, that makes you even more empowered, don’t you think?"