Leaving work earlier this week, a colleague and I passed a line of well-dressed women outside of a buzzy local restaurant. I assumed that they were waiting for an overzealous bouncer to check their IDs—until we got closer. It wasn’t a queue of would-be partiers passively waiting for entrée; they were actually very active, one shoe on, one shoe off, in a shaky Karate Kid Crane kick pose, teeter-tottering in a balancing act in an attempt to prevent their naked toes from touching the pavement. They were semi-barefoot grown women who were changing from their flat office shoes into their party heels. Perhaps you’ve seen them?
After we’d passed by, my colleague laughed. “I wish I’d taken a photo,” she said, and in a way, so did I. But I also felt a little embarrassed, like I’d accidentally opened an occupied bathroom stall. And I’ve been guilty, too, having done the heel-switching act on numerous occasions, most memorably leaving spare sneakers hidden in some surrounding bushes outside of a job interview. Now, years later, after seeing the good ol’ switcheroo? I was mortified at how uncomfortable and high-maintenance it all looked.
I can’t blame people who change their shoes in the open—they’re not doing it out of a desire to flash their feet (I don’t think) but out of necessity. Elevating a look, sometimes literally, is an occasional necessity when it comes to certain events, and sometimes a flat or clunky, comfy shoe just won’t cut it. Plus, this is the season where people head straight from a sterile cubicle to a festive holiday party—and usually a fun shoe to match is in order. So where to perform the reversal? Like most things, a little prep work goes a long way. “It goes without saying that you should always change in your cab or Uber if you’re taking one,” says Vogue.com Senior Producer Christina Liao. “I make sure my bag is big enough to hold either pair of shoes.” And Liao also keeps on hand a dust bag to protect the shoes and her bag. But here’s a hiccup: Evening bags are getting smaller and smaller, and what if you’re not driving? “If you’re going to an evening party, you probably don’t want to lug a massive bag around,” says Vogue.com Fashion Assistant Olivia Goodman. And if you don’t have a private driver to store the shoe bag with? “Well, you’re going to have to deal.” And “dealing” means a lot of things: from walking around with a sack of extra shoes to go with your cocktail dress to going to the party in your office loafers or trudging around, wobbly-limbed, in vertiginous sexy heels. Either way, there is plenty of baggage.
Those who argue in favor of the public shoe switch rather notably chose to stay anonymous: “If I’m walking somewhere, I’ll look for a deserted street close to my destination while I’m en route to do a quick swap,” says one. And when desperate times call for desperate measures, the same person recommends simply biting the bullet and going very public. “Go for a shameless subway change, because, let’s be honest, we’ve all seen stranger things on the train,” she continued. “Just make sure you’re not sitting between people when you do it.”
But the question remains: If people in the fashion industry can’t figure this out, who are party heels even for? “There has been no elegant or cool solution to this ever since sky-high heels were requisite party-wear. Performing the shoe-changing act in the street is humiliating, and then you have the baggage that goes with it,” says Vogue Contributing Editor Sarah Mower. “But lo! One good thing about 2015 is that it’s been the year of the mid-heel. My blissful no-change-needed solution is a pair of purple suede Nicholas Kirkwood pumps with ridiculous gold facet block heels. I love them because they look great with jeans for day and with tuxedo pants at night—with fishnet socks, both.” And for those who refuse to bow to trends? Take a page out of the book of Vogue.com Fashion News Director Chioma Nnadi, who has only one footwear commandment, regardless of heel height: “If I can’t walk five blocks in a shoe, I’m not wearing it.” Now that’s a trend we can get behind.
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