Women's Relationship to Shoes
There is little direct information available about women’s changing attitudes towards footwear. However, by examining period fashion and exploring women’s changing relationship to the workforce, assumptions can be made about women's attitudes towards shoes during different time periods.
UNDERSTANDING WOMEN’S RELATIONSHIP TO SHOES ACROSS TIME
For many women, the shoes they wear serve a purpose that extends beyond practicality. As an article in Psychology Tomorrow explains shoes often represent the attitude a woman wants to show to the world, for example, a pair of flats make her appear grounded while high leather boots appear tough. This desire for self-representation can be seen across the decades as society’s attitude towards women changed, and women’s attitude towards their shoes changed.
The 1950s saw a shift towards practicality in women’s footwear while also showing a move away from more masculine styles. This shift came in the 1950s as countries like the United States began to see a change from the attitudes and necessities of the WWII years. While it is not possible to know for sure, it is easy to interpret this shift towards more feminine shoes as a movement away from the more masculine roles women played, for example working in factories, during the war. The 1950s saw the fashion world come into its own and this combined with celebrities, like Marilyn Monroe, wearing high heels saw their popularity soar. With women wanting to emulate the feminine role models of the screen.
The landscape for women changed again as the feminist movement began to gain power and saw women move away from high heels and towards more comfortable shoes and kitten heels. Feminist groups began to criticize the high heel, seeing it as a fashion item invented by men that held women back and slowed them down, in both the figurative and literal senses. The assumption can be made that as women became more empowered, the idea that they could wear shoes based on comfort, instead of dependent on style, began to emerge. With this shift in attitude to the understanding that women needed more supportive and less attractive shoes started to develop.
The 1970s saw women begin to wear pumps and other shoes that were designed to emulate a more masculine style while retaining the heel. The 1970s was the decade that saw John T Molloy’s book Dress for Success be released with its message that dressing for success meant donning a suit. Women began to move into more male-dominated roles and industries in earnest, and the assumption can be made the professional wardrobe of the 1970s, sees women trying to fit into the ‘man’s world’ culture of those industries.
The 1980s the feminist attitude towards the high heel began to evolve with the idea that shoes like the high heel could provide women with confidence by giving them a sense of height, power and authority. This shift back towards the high heel comes two decades after the feminist movement as women are beginning to gain more dominant roles in the workforce.
1990s TO PRESENT DAY
For the last thirty years, the rapid cycling of shoe styles has been more fashion-focused, and women seem to be choosing shoes based on their tastes. However, the industry a woman works in can have a significant impact on her attitudes towards her shoes.
With some women favoring more feminine styles to set themselves apart in more male-dominated industries. While other women see wearing high heels as fraught with the baggage of femininity especially in a more male-dominated technology industry. Attitudes towards high heels and the women who wear them still vary greatly, especially between women and women. A 2014 study showed that men responded to street surveys given by women at a rate of 83-83 percent when they wore heels compared to 42-47 percent when they wore flats. The same study showed women responded to the request at a rate of 30-36 percent, regardless of the shoe type being worn by the women giving the survey. Again, this gender bias appears to be strong in male-dominated industries with many women believing that in the tech industry stylish women are seen as lacking the talent or intelligence to be taken seriously. This belief is compounded by the actions of men within the industry who criticize women’s intelligence based on the shoes they wear.
Today it is suggested to many women that the classic pump should still be the go-to shoe for a professional image. As an article in Forbes suggests, the debate that surrounds women’s shoe fashion can be seen as the continued attempt to dictate what women spend money on and how they think about what they wear.
How women feel about footwear has changed drastically since the 1950s and often as a result of the social and gender expectations of society. Women’s attitudes about shoes are still evolving as feminine styles like the high heel continue to be a contentious issue in some workplaces and some, often male-dominated, industries.