Footwear gurus raise eyebrows as they raise height of heels JUST FOR KICKS

September 15, 1994|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Sun Fashion Editor

Spikes, stilettos, high-heels. Mention them and the societally enlightened launch into discussions of podiatrists, pelvic displacement and human bondage. The fashionably attuned can't wait to get their feet into them and have some fun for a change.

Heels are back in style -- not the professional plump pump that can work the courtroom or basketball court, but some high-flying contraptions that teeter on the edge of silliness.

That's the point. Fashion is frivolous and fickle, and just when women are beginning to get comfortable with the idea of combat and work boots as appropriate for dress, the pranksters who drive the trends bring back those 3-inches-and-climbing glamour heels.

Glamour is what it's all about now. We've had dress-for-success, trailblazing outdoors and man-tailored seasons and now we're back to all-out allure. It has been a while. The last generation to shove its feet into pointy-toed stilettos in the '50s and early '60s now has bunions, hammer toes and grandchildren.

Now younger women, who have grown up with sneakers and sensible shoes, are being introduced to high heels. No one expects them to take to spikes very seriously, but they are being presented with the idea that an occasional whirl at dress-up can lift their spirits as well as their eye level.

Unlike their mothers, who were locked into high pumps as the obligatory dress shoe, today's fashionables are allowed to play with heels. That may account for the enduring appeal of Barbie, she of the permanently arched foot and sexy slides. More than three decades of little girls have been loyal to Barbie, who changed careers and hair colors but never gave up on her high heels. Barbie's tough. She stands tall no matter how much she's maligned.

That's the most recent message -- high heels are empowering. A Charles David ad for towering lace-up oxfords in this month's Harper's Bazaar tells women, "Dullards and naysayers or anyone who stands in your way, tell them it's not just your feet they can kiss." A pointed message to the comfort shoe police.

The idea of heels takes getting used to. The 4- and 5-inch numbers shown on fashion runways and magazine layouts haven't staggered down to mainstream shoe stores, but heels are definitely in the fall picture.

"Shoe fashions are based in ready-to-wear, and with more feminine dressing we see a resurgence of sexier footwear," says John Azzolini, buyer for Hess Shoes.

The rise of heels is not a fluke. The curvy '40s suits and slinky movie star dresses that are coming into the stores cry for them and the illusion of a longer leg they give.

"It's really too soon in the season to tell how high women are willing to go," says Mr. Azzolini. He expects the highest to do very well in the high-fashion salon market but wonders about the new generation's ability to turn sophisticate. "Grunge was easy," he says, "glamour is harder."

Experience may lead the trend. "Anybody who can do it will be doing it. Nothing makes a leg look better than a high pump. Put a 3-inch heel with a tailored suit and, bang, you're on," says Gilder Meakin, shoe buyer for Nordstrom at Towson Town Center.

"Women who already own heels will be the first to say we're coming back," he says. "They want to get up high again."

More than height, however, is the proportion of the shoe. "Women now want a more beautiful shoe than the one they've been wearing," says Mr. Meakin, "and that means more refined lines and finishes." That translates to luscious suedes and polished patents, with 3-inch versions in a sculpted wider base. "It's a question of looks, it will never be a comfort thing," he says. "Comfort is directly proportional to heel height, and women who want comfort will stick to 1-inch."

Even outdoorsy casual style will be walking taller. The popular work boot has been raised up as much as 2 1/2 inches and the ankle-hugging booties are still important with the long flowing skirt.

Linda Shein, merchandising director for Precis, says her stores haven't bought into stilettos but were definitely coming up off the ground. "Last season there were just so many platforms to sell, and this year there will be just so many high heels," she says.

At the appropriately named Wild Pair in Hunt Valley Mall, manager Kim Coleman says she carries a variety of spikes that maxes out at 5 inches. "Basically, that means you're standing on your toes," she says, "and it's the older women around 30 who are buying them." The idea of older being a relative description.

Cole Porter says most of the clients at his namesake store on Reisterstown Road will not touch stilettos. "They're hard to walk in. In the case of many women," he says "it's not that they won't do it, they can't."

He believes some women will take to high heels but not for every day. "Spike heels have had a lot of attention," he says. "Sure they're sexy, I admit, they look right with the new short skirts and make the foot and leg look wonderful."

Hmmmm.

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