High Are His Heels

It’s ironic that men are wearing towering heels when more and more women are abandoning them. Marc Jacobs seems to be leading the way. These may not be ruby red slippers, but they’re not far off


Marc Jacobs standing tall(er). Photo: themarcjacobs/instagram

By Carl Chan

It’s been increasingly difficult to make sense of fashion. Actually, I find it harder and harder to find the true meaning in clothes worn today. Or their implications. Or their significance, their value. Fashion has gone beyond fashion and mere self-expression. Fashion can also mean I don’t care about what I wear. Which is in itself fashion.

Ugliness is fashion. Normal is fashion. Barely-clothed is fashion. Modesty is fashion. Tight is fashion. Over-sized is fashion. Anti-fit is fashion. Anything is fashion. Everything is fashion. Mass is fashion. Custom is fashion. High is fashion. Low is fashion. Black is fashion. White is fashion. And every shade between is fashion. Expensive is fashion. Expansive is fashion. Affordable is fashion. Unaffordable is fashion. Exclusive is fashion. Inclusive is fashion. And, increasingly, as well as crucially, no-reference-to-sex is fashion.

When gender is now a non-issue and both sexes are free to express their feminine or masculine sides, or both, in dress (as noun to mean ‘clothing’, not a one-piece that women traditionally wear and now some men find a joy to don), lines are blurred or erased, and I am none the wiser. Sometimes, when one gender veers less towards an article of clothing, an accessory, the other adopts it; them.

Take footwear. Sneakers of every stripe—and swipe—have been the collective disruptor of the industry and consumption choice. Women who once frown on sneakers (especially when the kicks were considered too low until platform running shoes—of course not for running—came along) are now wearing them to the office, even before casual Friday comes acalling. I sit in the MRT train and look at the shod feet of the row of women seated before me, and more often then not, they are in sneakers, or flats or slippers—anything sans heels .

19-12-22-12-13-06-090_deco.jpgMarc Jacob’s best side and shoe. Photo: themarcjacobs/instagram

I sensed the clear-as-Cinderella’s-glass-slippers irony when I recently saw Marc Jacob’s IG post showing him posing in heels. Or, maybe not since Mr Jacobs is a known heel lover and wearer (you could be one and not the other), among other accouterments once mostly associated with women. But the boots he wears of late—Rick Owens, no less—have heels that are high, even by Rupaul’s Drag Race standards. That he could go “hiking” in them is a marvel of nimble footwork, if not supreme self-confidence. Yet this seems to go against what The Wall Street Journal reported a year ago: that “…smart, chic women are abandoning high heels (forever)”.

Of course, they said nothing about the men. To be sure, men wearing heels go back as far as the 15th century, when in Persia, soldiers wore boot-like shoes with elevated heels to help them have a better ‘grip’ on the stirrups. The Greeks may dispute that since their ancients were known to wear kothornis, platforms that could go up to four inches high in stage plays (apparently, the higher the heel, the more important the role). Reportedly, the heel-wearing Persian horsemen brought their footwear with them to Europe, where vain aristocratic males thought that such shoes would make them appear not only taller, but powerful; even formidable. That heels were later very much a part of French fashion in the court of Louis XIV was only outmatched by the luxury fashion consumed then and the constant renewal of the nobility’s wardrobes, creating a culture of couture and consumption that would eventually establish France as a fashion force, outdoing the scene in the sartorially notable Spain, where the style was beginning to look a little sad, strict, and severe.

Fast forward to more relatable times and the first image that comes to the mind (er, my mind) is that of David Bowie. I was not old enough to remember or even have seen the outrageous footwear he had a weakness for, but I do remember that in 1996, Mr Bowie, months to go before he turned 50, wore a pair of black shoes with noticeably high acrylic heels to perform at the Brit Awards of that year. He looked positively elegant and, dare I say, free of the androgyny that had characterised his career in the ’70s. If Mr Bowie could wear heels so not outrageously, and nicely fashionable, surely more men could adopt similarly high footwear?

19-12-22-13-27-07-340_decoYanis Marshall ‘werking’ it in killer heels. Photo: yanismarshall/instagram

In the 2010s, it would take the prominence of queer style (not—to be clear—drag costume) to put the spotlight on high heels for men. I’m not sure exactly when heels became pervasive enough to constitute a trend. Gay men are known to express the extremes in style, from articles of the female wardrobe to garbs that exaggerate already defined musculature. But through creative pursuits such as dance, they have used performance footwear not associated with their sex to elevate their craft, never mind if hairy legs and stilettos may be a tad disconcerting, even if we take in evolving aesthetics. Add another irony to all this: some men actually walk, if not dance, better in them heels than women!

I don’t know when Mr Jacobs took to wearing heels in daily life or a mere walk in the park, but I am aware that, professionally, one Frenchman Yanis Marshall has been wearing heels in his dance performance since, probably, as long as he has been dancing. In fact, heel-wearing among men seems to be restricted to the profession of dance (in particular heel or stiletto dance) until Mr Jacobs took it out to the streets. I am sure there are others too, but the former Louis Vuitton designer has been especially public about his heel habit.

Perhaps Mr Jacobs feels that no one gender actually owns high heels. Maybe he merely wants to accord his favourite shoes a unisex, non-binary status, and live by the increasingly common motto, you can wear whatever you want, just as you can do whatever you want. Surely this is not as simple as underscoring a gay identity? Or, perhaps, very simply, the 1.75m designer just wants to be a little bit taller and, like the noble men of the 18th century, formidable.