Those tall shoes are rearing their ugly heels again


April 23, 1992|By T. J. Howard | T. J. Howard,Chicago Tribune

The footwear industry appears to be suffering from the Hollywood sequel syndrome.

Case in point: platform shoes.

First, it was a '40s look popularized by Brazilian bombshell Carmen Miranda. Then, the comeback in the mid-'70s, and now in the '90s -- a decade touted for its back-to-basics approach to fashion -- the too-tall shoe is showing up again.

Happily, many platforms this spring are downright feminine, resting on soles only 1/4 -inch thick. But then again, there are the throwbacks to those '70s-ish shoes-on-stilts. Highest on the high list are the 2-inch platforms by Pancaldi and Charles Jourdan.

"It's the younger, trendier girls that really love platforms, especially the big monster ones," said Adele Fagan, manager of Sacha London in Chicago. "Older women see the platforms and say 'Oh my God, these are back, I still have some in my closet.' " The implication is loud and clear: The closet is where these shoes will stay, said Ms. Fagan.

Indeed, platforms spark a strong reaction. Women either love them or hate them. For women lacking in inches, platforms perform elevation miracles. Yet they also draw more attention to the foot. And feet are not getting any smaller, reports the National Shoe Retailers Association. In the 1960s, the average American woman wore size 6. Today, she takes an 8 or 8 1/2 .

Platforms may be the answer to a petite woman's prayers, but they remain a potential orthopedic nightmare, say podiatrists.

Although they're more comfortable than stiletto heels, platforms put pressure on the ball of the foot and lower back, according to Dr. Bart Gastwirth, chairman of the orthopedics department at the Chicago-based William M. Scholl College of Podiatriac Medicine.

Platforms also can impede stability and balance. "One of the problems with platforms in the '70s were the crepe soles," said Dr. Gastwirth. "The shoe would stop suddenly but the foot would keep on moving."

"Even if you were standing still, you were still at risk," recalled Maureen Smith, a Lake Forest, Ill., resident in her 40s with a self-admitted footwear fetish. Ms. Smith recalls owning approximately 30 pairs of platforms during the '70s.

Would she buy some today?

Sure. But less extreme, said Ms. Smith, who has been considering a pair of navy platforms by Robert Clergerie with a 3/4 -inch lift.

Fashion retailers like today's platforms with pants or long skirts and say these shoes are the perfect footnote to '40s nostalgic looks.

But they are still no picnic to walk in. Models at recent European fashion shows had great difficulty moving in their platforms. The worst scenario: Karl Lagerfeld's Fendi fur show in Milan where a runway with steep steps proved to be more than models could manage in 4-inch platforms with 6-inch heels.

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