February 2009

Skyscrapers



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Skyscrapers
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This pair is the perfect embodiment of the concept “stiletto-heeled shoes”, almost as though if you looked in the encyclopaedia, this pair is what you’d see. The company name “Skyscrapers” is apt because the heels are a towering 6 inches, giving the wearer an achievement on a human scale much like what architects seek to accomplish with towering structures on city skylines.

The word stiletto comes from the latin word “stilus” meaning “stake”. The stiletto heel is so named because it is short and thin like the stiletto dagger, a menacing weapon of the Renaissance. The stiletto heel came into fashion in the late 1940s and became a basis for women’s wardrobes in the 1950s. During the Second World War innovations in steel technology enabled manufacturers to extrude thin steel rods, which lead to use as the basis for stiletto heels which could be pin-thin but of remarkable lateral strength. Until this development, shoe producers had to design heels which were either short and narrow or high and rather thick, to support the wearer’s weight.

This new shape in shoes was the direct result of a dramatically different silhouette in fashion called the “New Look” which was introduced in 1947 by Christian Dior. It combined full, voluminous skirts, with tiny tucked waists and rounded feminine shoulders. This new style, with its emphasis on ‘thin’ and ‘feminine’ reflected the political and social sense of women in the Western world. The war was over and men returned home to take their places once again in the workforce. Women had embraced the role of war-time worker icon, Rosie the Riveter, and had done great service during the conflict, but now peacetime would restore men and women to their rightful places, men in the workplace and women in the home, it was a restoration of the accepted gender divide. Women were expected to take care of the home and family while looking beautiful, polished and very feminine. The “New Look” trend combined with high heels was the perfect visual image of middle-class femininity.

This particular pair of midnight blue leather Skyscraper shoes from New York would have been worn in the mid 1950s. They would not have been particularly expensive and would have been the sort of shoe most women would have had in their closet at the time. The rounded toe was popular in the middle of the decade and gives the shoes a sense of feminine innocence that is replaced by the more aggressively sexy pointed toe in 1957 which lasts until the early to mid-1960s.

Marilyn Monroe famously said, “I don’t know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot”. I’m not sure I agree wholeheartedly but I do agree that the high heel does shift a woman’s figure in aesthetically pleasing ways. When wearing high-heels, the posture of a woman changes dramatically, her shoulders roll back thereby pushing her bust out in front which in turn pushes her buttocks out to counter-balance the shift in her chest and upper body. In the most evolutionary way, it is a good way to attract male attention, and in the fashion world it is an easy, sexy silhouette to dress.

As far as fashion shoes go, we are never far from the stiletto heel in a designer’s mind. Sure, a flat shoe is comfortable, a platform can make us taller, a wedge or kitten heel is pragmatic, but the everlasting stiletto makes women’s legs look longer, and, as we know it alters their physique to create sex appeal. Wearing them sends a clear message that the shoes have been chosen for the outfit, and not the terrain. I can’t imagine a time when stiletto heels are gone from the Western Fashion pantheon because women and men love them too much. In fact, I would argue that we all have a love-hate relationship with stiletto heels.

 


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