Mid-heels: the height of chic?

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As lower-height shoes return from fashion's wasteland, our style experts debate whether this Nineties revival is fabulous or frumpy



Yes! says Carola Long


Until this season we were torn between two footwear extremes: giant Burj Tower-like heels or pancake-flat pumps and brogues.

You paid your money and took your choice between endless legs and a risk of twisted ankles or comfort and – gasp – cankles. Finally, how- ever, a third way has emerged, courtesy of the new mid heel.

While its return will be welcomed by Accident & Emergency departments everywhere, the mid heel might take a bit of getting used to. It conjures up images of air hostesses teaming cone-heeled courts that won't tear the escape slide with tan tights and boxy, acrylic skirt suits: a cursory compromise between function and formality. Until now, mid heels equalled middle of the road, but fashion is all about being open-minded and flexible in one's perceptions. Just as our idea of what constituted a decent heel has changed dramatically over the past few years (five inches or bust), so our perception of the mid heel needs some gentle recalibration.

Forget "fierce" and "tough" and a whole vocabulary that seems more appropriate to cage-fighting than a modern wardrobe. The mid heel can be quite – I'm about to use a word that's somewhat controversial in fashion parlance these days – elegant. And if by no means all this season's new heels are exactly elegant, then at least they are a little bit softer and sweeter than the spare engine-part styles that we've been rocking. The mid heel reflects the gentler, more good-humoured mood of spring/summer 2010.

Enter Marni's kitten heels. Yes, you heard me right, kitten heels. At the Milan show in September there wasn't an editor in the house who didn't feverishly scribble "kitten heels are back", followed by about 50 exclamation marks, in her Smythson notebook. The fashion press were officially amused because the kitten heel has formerly been up there with bootcut jeans, pashminas and wraparound sunglasses as something that was perhaps once cool in the mists of time, but is now generally seen as painfully bland.

Of course Marni's heels weren't literally recreating the classic LK Bennett look of the late Nineties, rather they placed an unexpectedly sturdy sandal on top of a little pin heel. It wasn't so much a subversion as a re-evaluation. Without these sartorial orthodoxies, fashion would be a static, boringly bourgeois place.

And so, over at Louis Vuitton some mid-heel mischief-making was also afoot, as creative director Marc Jacobs showed wooden-soled, colourful clogs and sandals perched on little rounded heels that looked like half an egg timer.

The message? It's time to ditch the try-hard, armoured stilts and have a bit of fun.

No! says Harriet Walker

I'm happy to admit that I'm a tad slavish about trends and that it can be a rather unattractive habit. I've opted for every unflattering, impractical style under the sun, all in the name of being hip, and I've proselytised about several of them here. But you won't catch me out in a pair of mid heels, which is what everyone's calling frump shoes these days.

I'm not one of those spiky shoe addicts who can't leave the house without the requisite extra six inches strapped to their feet. I'm not even contemptuous of sensible shoes – on the contrary, I'm quite enamoured of clumpy, orthopaedic-looking footwear and I actually spend most of my time in flats. Anything goes really, apart from Crocs.

But when it comes to heels, I absolutely and unequivocally do not see the point in beating around the proverbial bush. Low heels, mid heels, kitten heels – whatever you want to call them – are a cop-out.

If you make the decision to wear heels, it's because you're after glamour or more shapely legs. Anything less than four inches will give you neither. And don't come back at me with the practicality argument – because wobbling about on the

surface area of a drawing pin is never easy, regardless of how close to the ground you are. If it's comfort and stability you're after, try galoshes. Or marriage.

Mid heels aren't articulated enough to push your legs into the straighter, thinner, more idealised version of themselves that you get with high heels. They're actually calibrated to the precise height that makes calves look chunkier than they really are, because they create tension in the lower leg muscles rather than in the hamstring, giving you the physique of a hose-wearing Renaissance king.

They're also distinctly not glamorous, unless your version of glamour is more librarian than Louboutin. Kitten heels are inextricably linked to slightly-too-pale, bobbly, flesh-coloured tights and ill-fitting polyester pencil skirts. The sexy secretary look only works if you have a bit of class, and mid heels don't. I also distinctly remember being desperate for a pair of kitten heels after reading Bridget Jones waxing lyrical about hers. Acceptable in 1996, of course, but I'd wager she got rid of them a very long time ago.

Quite how un-cool the mid heel is was undoubtedly the draw this season for designers with a penchant for the ironic rehabilitation of former wardrobe no-nos. Marc Jacobs loves bringing back the unthinkable – just look what he did for bum-bags and the Eighties – so there were mid-heights aplenty scattered across his eponymous collections. But, crucially, they were wedges, which is technically a separate genre. (His shoes for Louis Vuitton were a different story; they had moustaches attached so we can discount them.) A wedge doesn't look prissy in the way that a kitten heel does, so if you're getting vertigo from your high heels, they're an acceptable lower-height alternative.

Of course, fashion trends can be as transient or as stubborn as the foot cramp they incite, and there's nothing worse than watching some poor soul totter about in shoes that they can't handle. Pick chunky heels and concealed platforms for added sturdiness, and think about ankle straps if you're worried about falling out. There were plenty of styles to choose from on the catwalks, from delicately embellished courts at Lanvin to giant 12-inch-high numbers, or "armadillo shoes", at McQueen.

It's best to avoid anything that looks too sci-fi or too cartoon-ish though. The era of overly strappy or bling super-platforms is over and you'll look passé, so jettison anything that doesn't pass the Danny La Rue test.

Styles this season are simple and rural, so look for wooden detailing, canvas and uncluttered lines. Just be sure, whatever you do, that they're over four inches high.

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