Flat Shoes: Why Flatlining Is Now the Height of Fashion
We’re moving out of the complex fug of the high heel and into a whole new era of flats and mid-heels.
By Lisa Armstrong
Wearing heels – it’s complicated, isn’t it? A little bit of empowerment and a whole lot of disempowerment, particularly when you can’t run and your bunions are throbbing like a nuclear power station. There’s a raft of contradictory indicators involved in shoe altitude, such as wanting to look very expensive and a bit trashy at the same time, and I’m afraid we just don’t have the space to explore them all today.
 In any case, we’re moving out of the complex fug of the high heel and into a whole new era of flats and mid-heels. Shoes you can walk, run and feel comfortable in. What’s that all about? The economy is what, according to a new report linking the nation’s flatlining finances with… flat shoes. Who employs these people? The economy’s been tanking since at least 2008. Louboutin did a 6½-inch heel in 2011.
 No my friends, this is about fashion. Fashion is tired of the killer heel. It doesn’t see any future in the relationship. As far as fashion’s concerned, it has given its all trying to make things work. Louboutin toiled day and night to produce a shoe that, technically, functioned. But there are limits to the ingenuity of even the greatest, most optimistic shoeman. After 6½ inches, you’ve reached the logical and practical terminus of the heel: there’s nowhere to go but down.
 The mid-heel is going to be the chic evening choice in the seasons to come. Listening to designers who decried it as the epitome of middle age to talk it up as the acme of style will be very entertaining.
 For daytime, however, the really fashionable choice will be a flat shoe. Hip designers such as Nicholas Kirkwood and Tabitha Simmons, both Brits, report a big upsurge in demand, a sign that women are willing to invest a considerable number of pennies on flats.
 To be honest, the flattie always has been popular down on the streets. As Louboutin was scaling new heights, the average girl about town was running around in ballet flats. These have been a staple of the shoe wardrobe for more than a decade. When they weren’t on our feet, they were in our handbags and totes, waiting to release us from the torture of higher, flashier, less considerate shoes. There wasn’t much of a flattie alternative: brogues and trainers were mooted, but perhaps because of the way they covered the foot, they just weren’t as flattering with the ubiquitous skinny jean.
 But now it really does seem to be nail-in-the-coffin time for ballet shoes. The looser silhouettes coming our way don’t quite work with them. Nor does the “new” fishtailed calf-length skirt.
 The brogue, however, does. Brogues, along with loafers, have been invading fashion for a few years, but soon they’ll be inescapable. Céline ’s chunky white loafer, with its doorstoppingly thick sole, is the kind of shoe only a cognoscente highly attuned to the arcane aspects of footwear could love. The brogue has also been um, rebooted and elevated on to tractor style “flat-forms” at Prada, or hybridised with a PVC clog and hoisted on to even higher “flat-forms” at Stella McCartney . The model Agyness Deyn has just designed a summer flat for Dr Martens, a school-style sandal on a huge, spongiform sole. So now you don’t even have to be tall to wear flats.
 What you do require is a certain attitude. Flats bespeak confidence. They encourage a slouchy, hand-in-pockets insouciance. You’re meant to wear both trousers and shoes with floppy shirts and sloppy jumpers, and adopt a quietly unassuming manner that suggests that even if you have just stepped off a Margaret Howell catwalk, your mind is on loftier matters – peace in the Middle East say.
 Is this why the Duchess of Cornwall wore her posh plimsolls the other day? Whatever the reason, she looked stylish and youthful, the PP having become a modern classic. It was Emma Hope who first thought up the PP. In the beginning, not everyone could see the point, but its enduring popularity has spawned a whole genre of dressing, Dress Down Luxury.
 Hope has been mercilessly copied in the decade since – annoying for her, but also gratifying. If she never comes up with another original idea, she’s earned her place in shoe history. As Diana Vreeland and/or Coco Chanel said, elegance is refusal. It’s also comfort. ■