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High Heels Hurt Like Hell: Do Women Wear Them to Signify Class and Status?

February 28, 2013 in Blogs

By Lisa Wade PhD, Sociological Images



I don’t know about you, but whenever I go shopping for shoes, I’m always stunned by the incredible disproportion of high heels.  I’m just gonna guestimate here, but I’ll bet 85% of the shoes at the average store are high heels so impractical that most women only wear them on special occasions that involve a lot of sitting down.  These shoes, moreover, seem to be pushed to the front of the display.  Women’s shoe stores beckon shoppers by putting their most outrageous shoes out front.  You have to go digging for a practical pump.

A quick Google image search for “women’s shoes” reveals the same bias in favor of the four-inch or higher, spindly heeled shoe:

How is it that a shoe that gets 1% of feet time takes up 85% of retail space?  I’m gonna take a shot at offering an answer.

In a previous post I reviewed the history of the high heel.  Originally a shoe for high-status men, it was adopted by the lower classes.  Elites responded by heightening the heel.  The higher the heel, the more impractical the shoe.  Eventually the working classes couldn’t keep up with the escalation because they had to, you know, work.  Sociologically, this is an example of what Pierre Bourdieu famously called “distinction.”  The rich work to preserve certain cultural arenas and products for themselves.  This allows them to signify their status; you know, keep them from getting confused with the masses.

I think something similar is going on today among women.

Certain class advantages make it easier for upper middle class and wealthy women to don high heels.  High heels can really only be worn routinely by women who don’t work on their feet all day (I’ll grant there are dedicated exceptions).  Valet parking makes it a whole lot easier to wear shoes that hurt to walk in, so does not having to take the bus.* Having money, in itself, means that nothing stands between you and buying things that are impractical.

So, high heels function to differentiate women who can afford to be impractical with their footwear — both monetarily and in practice — from women who can’t.

This, I think, is why the …read more
Source: ALTERNET

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