A day in high heels (by a man): Why Cannes must change its 'flats' policy

Women had been turned away from red carpet events for not wearing heels

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The Independent Online

On Thursday evening, I hit the streets of Soho on a mission to find a pair of heels – the higher the better – in a men’s size nine. It took me to the neighbourhood’s southwest corner around Walker’s Court. Old Soho; real Soho; dingy, murky, grubby Soho. The Soho that probably won’t exist in a year.

After a few false starts in shops mainly selling sex toys and bondage gear, I found a purveyor of ladies shoes in blokes’ size, on a little corner in Brewer Street. Trying on a pair, I began to explain to Sam the sales assistant, “I’m a journalist, it’s for a story…” “It’s ok,” Sam cut in with a reassuring smile. “No need to explain’.”

The story that towered above all others this week was news from Cannes that women had been turned away from red carpet events for wearing flat shoes. English actress Emily Blunt led criticism of the organisers’ behaviour. “I think everyone should wear flats, to be honest,” she said. “I just prefer wearing Converse sneakers.”

An attendee wears heels on the red carpet at Cannes to the press conference for Saul Fia

I too am more comfortable in a pair of Converse. But yesterday I donned a pair of electric blue snakeskin stilettos (from River Island, in the end) for the best part of the day. Strappy little numbers they were, with a zip up the back to hold everything in.

“If you’ve got heels on your feet – wear them, walk with them, own them,” was Jono Kitchens’ response to my plea for guidance.

He knows his stuff, having performed in drag as “Joan Oh” for four years at the legendary  East London club night, Sink the Pink. 

I’ve had mine on for an hour, I tell him, and can do little better than stagger around like Bambi. “I bet by the end of the day, you’ll be giving it strut central,” he tells me. Reluctantly, I totter out to the high street to test his theory.

There is a definite sense of empowerment. I’m 6ft 3in, instead of 5ft 11in!. People get out of my way. And give me funny looks. For a moment, I get into the swing of things -– a kick here, a wiggle there.

But before long, things start to hurt. There’s tightness in the bottom of my calves. I feel the bones in my feet crunch together. Which may be psychosomatic – I’m a bit of a hypochondriac and have spent a large part of the day looking at X-rays of mangled feet. Then my big toe begins to fizz. And my little one feels horribly constricted.  I had no idea you could get claustrophobic feet. A series of medical professionals warn me of a range of physiological repercussions that await the heel-wearer, from blisters to bunions, bad back to varicose veins and plantar fasciitis to splitting headaches.

But Emma Supple of the College of Podiatry adds there is a right way to do it. Do foot exercises, keep everything in good nick, and stay comfortable. “Be the person dancing barefoot because you want to be, not because you have to,” she says.

So what can I bring to this debate? Women have suffered in the podiatric department from foot-binding onwards thanks largely to the perverse predilections of men. I’m sure the last thing anyone wants is some bloke in fancy shoes coming along to validate those experiences. But, for what it’s worth, I concur with Blunt et al – wearing heels is, excuse the pun, a right drag.

When it comes to putting my “flats” back on, the physical relief is all the more sweet for knowing I won’t have to go through the toe-crunching ordeal again any time soon.

Let’s hope Cannes’ organisers allow female guests the same freedom next year. If not, their male counterparts could take my protest to the red carpet.

Leonardo DiCaprio, I have a pair of size nines with your name on.