FOR A girl who has spent the summer schlepping around in a pair of clogs that verge on orthopaedic, being presented with a pair of four-inch spike heels was a rude awakening. But this winter, according to the fashion magazines, we are all going to be very grown-up, and stiletto heels will become an essential part of every woman's wardrobe.

At the July haute couture shows in Paris, Liz Tilberis, editor of American Vogue, stunned onlookers when she turned up in spindly, creamy-white patent stiletto heels, looking incredibly chic and leaving fashion editors feeling like frumps in their trainers and sandals. Now that glamour has become a fashion buzzword again, I decided to go with the flow, kick off my comfy flat boats and spend a couple of days in the sort of shoes I thought only existed in Helmut Newton photographs.

'Unless you have perfect balance, you'll feel very uncomfortable at first,' warned Leila Cerullo, press officer for Vivienne Westwood, who used to practice wearing her heels at home before tackling escalators. Cerullo wears high heels almost every day - but sometimes, she admits, she wears trainers into work and changes into her heels when she arrives. 'Complete strangers stop me and ask how I can walk in them,' she says, 'but I'm not Wonderwoman. If Vivienne can wear them, anyone can.'

It was with trepidation that I pushed my toes to the ends of a pair of four-inch black patent stilettos from Faith Shoes and carefully stood up. Adding four inches to your height (I am 5ft 4in) alters your whole perspective on life. Suddenly I found I was staring people straight in the eyes. It felt strangely empowering to tower above a woman standing next to me waiting for the Tube.

Wearing high heels alters your wardrobe. Trousers with stilettos can look too Seventies, short skirts look too tarty, long skirts look middle-aged. The past six months spent swimming and cycling have not resulted in delicately toned limbs but solid, muscular calves. I'm resigned to the fact that my legs will never look like new supermodel Nadja Auermann's, however high the heels.

I finally decided on a knee- length dress. My first high- heeled outing was to the cinema to see The Last Seduction, a film about a femme fatale who wears four-inch black suede heels. Only once, when she makes a speedy getaway, does our heroine take off her shoes and run down a street in stockinged feet. In a busy pub before the film, I found that being served proved much quicker with high heels. I could see over everyone's heads and caught the barman's eye straight away.

The great disadvantage is that heels slow you down; tiny steps are easier than strides. I took to searching out zebra crossings because I couldn't be sure of getting across the road without being run over. Stairs became obstacle courses.

Just catching a bus is a whole new experience. For a start, you cannot run for it, while going to the upper deck is ambitious, but achievable. I took to gripping desperately at the rails as I went up and down - not very elegant. But then neither is walking along, head down, eyes glued to the pavement, searching out the next cracked flagstone or pot-hole.

Walking down a street in broad daylight, I felt vulnerable and was acutely aware of people's eyes fixing on a point around my ankles. When I caught my reflection in shop windows, I realised I was bobbing up and down like a duck. There is an art to walking in high heels. It might be easier to walk along a tightrope.

Just as some people don't look like smokers, some women don't look like high-heel wearers. 'No sensible woman would ever wear them]' was one comment (but who wants to be condemned to being a 'sensible woman' all their lives?). Wearing heels is all about confidence. When I went to interview a textile designer and found myself apologising for my shoes, I knew I was not yet a stiletto kind of girl.

The stiletto has strange allies. William Tomlin, a member of the British Chiropractic Association, is not alarmed by the trend. 'The latest reports state that heels are actually good for your back because they change the centre of gravity,' he said. A heel makes the wearer lean back and increases the natural curve of the lower back.

So, as well as being the height of fashion, could heels actually be good for you? It looks as though I will just have to persevere. No pain, no gain.

(Photograph omitted)

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