How High Heels Made It Into Menswear

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How High Heels Made It Into Menswear

Words by Mr Alfred Tong

27 March 2017

Normally the preserve of diminutive rockers and monarchs, stacked footwear is going mainstream this spring.

What do the rock star, cowboy, king, politician and soldier have in common? They have, for very different reasons, all been known to wear high(er) heels. And if Balenciaga, Gucci, Acne Studios and Saint Laurent have their way this spring, you, too, might be standing in front of a mirror wondering, “Can I? Should I?”

Let’s start by saying that the idea of heels for men is not a complete bolt out of the blue. On the contrary, stacked footwear has plenty of historical precedent. For the cowboys and cavalrymen of yesteryear, heeled boots and stirrups were needed for maintaining balance on the back of a horse, and so they became synonymous with masculinity. In the 17th century, King Charles I wore heels to compensate for his short and physically weak 5ft 3in frame. But where he led, other nobleman followed, and so high heels became associated with class, power and decadence during his reign.

In the 20th century, you had rock stars from The Beatles through to Mr David Bowie, the New York Dolls and Prince wearing heeled shoes and boots as gender-bending provocation. And in 2017, it’s being taken further. Balenciaga is doing platform disco boots as a deliberately awkward non-sequitur within its skewed tailoring. Gucci is resurrecting the 1970s, and bringing flamboyant, glam rock-inspired footwear back in the process. Acne Studios’ Iggy boot (presumably named after Mr Iggy Pop), channels the sleazy glamour of New York’s downtown punk scene of the 1970s.

That’s all well and good, but at some point, these shoes are going to have to be worn in the real world. Indeed, we’re stocking a few choice examples on MR PORTER. So how do you do it?

“There are two sides to this trend,” says Mr Way Perry, a stylist who has dressed everyone from Tinie Tempah to Mr Aaron Taylor-Johnson for his recent appearance in MR PORTER’s The Journal. “There are men who wear a higher heel just to add height. It’s purely functional. With politicians like Vladimir Putin, and Simon Cowell, it’s clearly more of a power play.

“Then there’s the other extreme, where it’s a very on-trend, very fashion-forward look, which is about pushing gender boundaries and being deliberately provocative. That’s what you’re seeing with younger guys wearing the 4in Balenciaga or Gucci boot.”

It could be argued that there is also a third iteration, which channels the sophisticated side of 1970s flamboyance and is epitomised by Saint Laurent’s Wyatt Harness boot. Featuring a lower 1.5in heel with an equestrian-style steel hoop and harness strap detail on the ankle, it’s a boot that looks good with slim black jeans, and perhaps provides the easiest way to wear this trend.

“That’s more of an ankle boot with a slight heel,” says Mr Perry. “It’s for an older, more sophisticated guy, and it says, ‘I’m in the know, but I’m not part of the circus.’ You sometimes see architects in those boots.”

The worst thing you can do is try to surreptitiously add height to your shoes without anyone knowing. “It’s best to try and own it, and make it part of a style statement,” says Mr Perry. “Trying to do it discreetly always brings the wrong kind of attention. I’d wear slim-fit trousers that stop neatly at the top of shoe with no break, for a really strong silhouette. The worst is trying to hide heels with wide-legged trousers where you get a little bit of toe poking out. Simon Cowell is a serial offender.”

As for the more flamboyant iteration of this trend, beware. It’s not for everyone. “It really only suits those sinewy, skinny rock ’n’ roll guys,” says Mr Perry. “Noel Fielding and Russell Brand come to mind. I’ve seen people do it just because it’s a trend, and it really doesn’t work. One guy it looks really natural on is Lenny Kravitz, but he’s always done that look, and the fashion has come back round to him.”


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