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Are we done wearing high heels? Here's why I am even after the coronavirus era ends

Remember when we wore high heels?

My stilettos and I had a rapport going for years. I’d retire them only when the rubber bottom started to show the metal rod inside. I’d put them on for red carpet work events and place them in a T shape the way I saw celebrities do, as a way of ensuring I achieved my most glamorous potential. I kept them on during weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and after-parties because I wasn’t about to ditch my beloved feminine footwear for some cheap flip flops even if my arches ached. After all of the lifting and toning heels did for my butt and legs, I couldn’t toss them aside. 

But apparently I can keep them stored in my closet for five months as a deadly virus rages across the world.

To my surprise, I don’t miss them.

Which got me thinking, even when this is all over, will I ever put my heels back on? Will any of us?

Renée Fleming, the elegant opera singer who memorably wore 5-inch heels to sing the national anthem at the 2014 Super Bowl, said that she isn’t planning on putting hers on anytime soon.

“I don’t think I’ll ever wear high heels again,” she told the New York Times in a recent interview. What is she wearing during the coronavirus age? She recently bought clogs.

Personally, I’ve stuck with four categories of footwear for months: Velcro sandals, fuzzy socks (when you're at home all day, socks become their own form of footwear), sneakers (I bought a new pair in March because running was my main form of exercise) and hiking shoes (purchased in June for a national park road trip).

Nationally, consumers are following similar patterns. According to NPD Group footwear and accessories analyst Beth Goldstein, slipper sales doubled in the last year, with slides – Crocs, specifically – remaining popular. 

Sales of dress shoes, meanwhile, plummeted 70% from March through May compared to the same time in 2019, when the category was already down 12%.

I’m sorry to tell my pumps, but it appears high heels don't have legs in the coronavirus age. And perhaps even beyond.

Put aside the fact that even the thought of putting on a high-heeled shoe, after I’ve lost the callouses (and patience) that made wearing them tolerable, makes my calf twitch, stilettos have slowly been losing their cachet anyway.

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“The heel business has been struggling for a couple of years,” Goldstein says, adding as offices have trended toward less-dressy, “consumers have gotten used to this casualization of society."

High-fashion brands including Gucci, Roger Vivier and Louis Vuitton were already pivoting under the pressure to appeal to buyers who want more cushion by including sneakers, lower heels and wedges in their collections.

“Stilettos were sort of going out of style,” agrees Gabriella Santaniello, an analyst focused on fashion at retail research firm A-Line Partners. She predicts that once people start returning to work and events, they might drop heels entirely and just wear their "dressy sneakers." 

“I can't see it going back to the way it was,” Santaiello says. 

Neither can I. Why would I go back to wearing something that studies (and experience with sprained ankles) have shown is detrimental to my physical health?

Heels aren't required for a Zoom call – nor is any "work clothing," it turns out, considering retailers Lord & Taylor, Ann Taylor, Loft, Neiman Marcus, Brooks Brothers, Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank have entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in recent weeks.

After going barefoot for meetings and to get the mail, slipping a heeled shoe back on now would be like … trying to move back in with my parents house after spending so much time getting used to life without their restrictions. (Sound familiar to anyone?) 

I don’t even think I miss the extra oomph that a few inches of heels gave me. After 150 days of going makeup-free and casual, I’ve gotten used to the way I look flat-footed and freckle-faced. When I see myself in the mirror now, I don't automatically move to paint my skin and stand on my toes, like I used to. That feels like a good thing.

I’ve also gotten quite accustomed to the way a fuzzy sock feels as it massages the bottom of my foot. The Dr. Scholl's pads I put on my heels didn’t offer anything similar.

Not to mention the fact that heels can seem particularly frivolous at a moment when people are marching to protest the loss of Black lives, and a time when sneakers have even become a means of protest, with 88 pairs put out in front of the White House to bring awareness to the number of nurses that have died during COVID-19. 

But, then again, if you're a drag queen like Jo Mama, stilettos can be an important part of protest attire. She dressed in drag for a Black Lives Matter demonstration, "to be like, ‘You’re going see me,’” she told USA TODAY. “I’m going to be present. You can’t miss me and you’re going to hear my voice.” 

And there are others whose love for high shoes hasn't appeared to have waned this summer. Cardi B continues to share fashionable Instagram photos of herself in Fashion Nova and Dolce & Gabbana heels, that woman I see at the grocery star is still shopping in her white platform heels (and matching Chanel face mask) and Sarah Jessica Parker keeps flaunting and selling her heels (she even hand delivered pairs in a mask recently), pandemic or not.

"There's always going to be that consumer who loves to dress up and is a bit more formal, so I think there'll still be a (high heel) business, for those who want it," says Goldstein.

But for me, high-heeled shoes seem to be best served in the near future as planters for new quarantine gardens, or better yet, instruments with which to make bizarre TikToks of crunching gooey objects. Those videos of people stabbing their pointy heels into water balloons, Tide pods and popsicles? They seem to give the high heel some new, strangely soothing, life.

Contributing: Josh Rivera, David Oliver and Nathan Bomey

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