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Flats or heels? How the pandemic polarized shoes

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During the first UK lockdown in early 2020, I fantasized about all the right shoes I would wear once I was allowed to sit in a bar or dance at a house party. But almost two years later, I’m still looking for the same pairs of slippers, sneakers, and the occasional waterproof boots. A pair of black Nike Lahars with a chunky hiking sole is the only shoe I have purchased since 2019.

To me, heels have never felt so out of place. Yet the second most popular feminine product on search engine Lyst in Q3 was Versace’s Medusa Aevitas platform pumps in shimmering satin, which were revealed at the Versace runway show in March and immediately spotted on Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande. and Beyoncé.

On the street, I began to spot a handful of regular wearers of the insanely high platform boots and hear the click of heels on Friday night. Am I really the only one who stuck with the Nikes and Doc Martens? The answer, like our post-Covid life, is complicated.

According to multi-brand stores Browns in London and Luisa Via Roma in Florence, shoppers returned to on-trend shoes as soon as they learned the closures were loosening last year. “It literally turned overnight,” says Hollie Harding, purchasing manager for non-apparel products at Browns. “The customer went from boots to heels – embellished, glitter, satin, colorful. I thought there would be a bit of gradation with heel height, but they went straight back to 100mm heels and platforms. Brands like Amina Muaddi and Mach & Mach, which offer heeled shoes adorned with silk satin and PVC, started selling as soon as they became available.

Some shoppers switched straight from boots to embellished heels – like these crystal satin pumps from Mach & Mach – as soon as they heard the locks were easing.

“It’s a much stronger trend than before,” says Graziella Carta, senior buyer at Luisa Via Roma, where Amina Muaddi and Mach & Mach shoes are also popular, alongside options from Aquazzura, Versace, René Caovilla and Roger. Vivier.

Irakli Kikolashvili, managing director of Georgian brand Mach & Mach, founded in 2012, said sales increased 500% in 2020 compared to 2019, with consumers looking for “sparkle and excitement.” (The increase in sales was also fueled by the decision to move production to Italy at the end of 2019, which allowed the brand to increase quantities, improve quality and meet demand from international buyers. )

Amina Muaddi, founder of the eponymous brand, believes her shoes acted as a mood booster during the pandemic. In the last 12 months, sales have increased by 150%. “It was an escape from reality. Women wanted to buy pretty things because if you stay home for a year in your tracksuit it affects your mood, ”she says. The brand continued to sell at Browns.

Amina Muaddi Begum Glass 95 Crystal High Heel Pumps in Hot Pink, £ 765, brownsfashion.com

Amina Muaddi Begum Glass 95 crystal pumps, £ 765, brownsfashion.com

Amina Muaddi Emili 95 Crystal Satin High Heel Mules, £ 865, brownsfashion.com

Amina Muaddi Emili 95 crystal satin mules, £ 865, brownsfashion.com

JW Anderson chain-embellished leather slippers, £ 495, net-a-porter.com

JW Anderson chain-embellished leather slippers, £ 495, net-a-porter.com

For other shoppers, however, getting back to their pre-pandemic sartorial habits, especially in terms of footwear, has been a challenge. “People are learning to dress, look and feel good again,” says personal stylist Neelam Mistry-Thaker. “When it comes to heels, they’re almost intimidated by it.”

“Most of the people I’ve been in contact with can’t wear heels anymore,” echoes stylist, buyer and image consultant Laura Fawcett.

“I have a wardrobe full of the most glorious shoes – and all I’ve worn in two years are sneakers and Birkenstocks,” says my former colleague Penelope, who was undergoing cancer treatment and protection in 2020. “Every time I open my wardrobe, I feel a little sad.

She struggled to reconnect with her pre-Covid wardrobe. “Once Lock Three was finally lifted, all of my dressing habits and seeing people in person had changed,” she continues. “It’s been a very conscious and difficult process over the last few months to reconnect now to myself then. The shoes were the hardest part because it feels like an effort to put on heels or something deeply impractical when I’m just strolling through the park or local stores.

Birkenstock + Net-a-Porter Arizona Flat Sandals in Black Leather, £ 320, net-a-porter.com

Birkenstock + Net-a-Porter Arizona Leather Sandals, £ 320, net-a-porter.com

Proenza Schouler Sheepskin Lined Leather Mules, £ 570, net-a-porter.com

Proenza Schouler Sheepskin Lined Leather Mules, £ 570, net-a-porter.com

Black Suede Nike Lahar Sneakers, £ 115, net-a-porter.com

Nike Lahar Suede Sneakers, £ 115, net-a-porter.com

This polarized approach to footwear is confirmed by Lyst, which lists sneakers, loafers and platform heels as the top three shoe picks for women around the world for the past three months. In Q3, the hottest items after the aforementioned Versace Medusa Aevitas platform pumps were super comfy and relaxed: Bottega Veneta slides, Nike React Vapor NXT sneakers, and JW Anderson chain mules.

Whether it’s heels, flats, platform shoes, or boots, shoppers are drawn to styles that put them at ease emotionally and psychologically and that can work in a variety of settings. Stylist and consultant Sara King Moura has ditched high heels but still wears kitten heels in neutral hues to suit different occasions. “Since the pandemic, I’ve stayed hyper-loyal to styles that cover the whole year,” she says.

With the help of stylist Alison McDougal, my ex-colleague Penelope is rediscovering her wardrobe and what it feels like to wear beautiful things, while adapting to her current personality. “She helped me realize that I could still wear beautiful things and that I could wear them just for myself if I wanted to,” she says. “Rather than having a ‘lust list’ of future purchases, I now shop my [existing] shoe collection. But I threw away my skanky sneakers and replaced them with something more fun, so it might just be a matter of time.

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