Kristen Stewart ditched her heels on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival 2018
As she removed her stilettos – with their signature lipstick-red soles – she would have felt a tangible liberation from the constraints of wearing heels.
After all, which of us has not enjoyed that relief at the end of a long night when removing our contorted feet from shoes that can cause pressure points and risk permanent damage to knees, hips, back and tendons?
However unlike those of us who have danced the night away in teetering heels then kicked them off in the cab home, Miss Stewart was only just embarking on her night out at one of the world’s most glamorous A-list gatherings.
Known for wearing trainers with extravagant couture gowns her gesture was a symbolic protest at the gender inequities.
When the powers that be at the high-profile French film festival decreed that flat shoes be banned on women walking the red carpet, Stewart retorted: “If you’re not asking guys to wear heels and a dress you cannot ask me either.”
I work a lot with men in suits in boardrooms and I would never lead a session in flats
And while I admire her stance and resolute determination to express her own style I can’t help but think there are times when a fabulous pair of heels are the height of feminine feminism.
Some say they are a repressive, subversive relic of a male-dominated society designed to cripple women into submission.
However I believe that choosing to wear them is empowering and that they are one of the wonderful weapons in a post-feminist woman’s sartorial armoury.
The truth is many women are prepared to suffer temporary pain to enjoy the aesthetic and psychological benefits of wearing high heels.
As someone who is diminutive in stature there are immediate advantages to slipping my size fours into a four-inch heel: I can suddenly look many of my friends in the eye and have a conversation without straining my neck.
Victoria Beckham wearing heels
Historically heels have been used as a form of marking power: 10,000 years ago tribal chieftains were known to wear stilts at meetings to allow them to look down on the members of their tribe.
And in the 16th century, when European aristocrats adopted the heels favoured by Catherine de Medici, they were outraged when commoners began to wear them too.
A law was passed prohibiting anyone below the rank of gentry from wearing heels, hence the expression “well-heeled”.
Psychologist Zoe Mayson suggests that many women still see the stiletto as a tool.
“They are a psychological asset and we can use them to our advantage. I work a lot with men in suits in boardrooms and I would never lead a session in flats, she says.
“Heels give me gravitas that I would not have in lower shoes. From an evolutionary point of view natural selection favours traits that increase our individual reproductive success.
“Heels get you noticed and give you physical stature, which in turn gives you power without compromising your femininity.
Duchess of Cambridge looking stylish in heels
Sarah Jessica Parker in heels
“Often women take on male attributes in order to be successful in the workplace and this is a great way of digging our heels in and saying no while literally elevating our stature to put us on a physical par with male counterparts.”
But the pleasure of perching on heels goes far beyond the practicalities of elevating me.
There is something exotic and thrilling about a beautiful pair of heels, forcing you to adjust your posture and your walk to accommodate the thrusting forward of your feet.
I could not do this day in, day out and no podiatrist would encourage it either.
However the transformational effect of a perfectly sculpted heel, balanced with an exquisitely shaped vamp [the upper part of a shoe] is immeasurable, adding va-va voom to even the most demure of ensembles.
For my first wedding in 1993 Jimmy Choo himself measured my feet and hand-crafted a pair of champagne-coloured couture Duchess satin heels to match my gown.
Christian Louboutins and the signature red sole
The magic of those shoes lasted much longer than the marriage and when I married my second husband last year I wore a wonderful pair of silver, strappy glittered heels by Martine Sitbon – the perfect platform for a pint-sized 5ft 2in bride to kiss her 6ft 4in husband.
And while I spend much of my everyday life as a working mum living in the countryside wearing trainers or brogues I have, over the past three decades accrued a collection of heels that allude to a life far more glamorous.
Many are remnants of my former life as a TV fashion correspondent reporting from the front row of catwalks in Milan, Paris, New York and London and interviewing celebrities on the red carpet.
Some, I confess, are the result of some fantasy that I lived in a Sex And The City-style world where opulently embroidered and beaded spike-heeled satin sandals were the norm.
There are beribboned Pradas with spindle-like stilettos wrapped in velvet the colour of Parma Violets.
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I have moire silk courts by Anya Hindmarch and teetering rose pink satin Jimmy Choo mules scattered with a sprinkling of beads.
Christian Loubotin’s patent lipstick-red leather Mary Jans with his signature matching platform soles bring out the seductress in me while the leg-lengthening illusion of high-rise flesh-toned heels is not lost on me.
Row upon row of stacked boxes bear the names of Rupert Sanderson, Marni, Sophia Webster, Dolce & Gabbana, Gina, Christian Dior, Topshop, Emma Hope, Paul Smith, Moschino and Tabitha Simmons.
Equally I am not immune to the allure of high-street heels and proudly sport an array of sky- scraper shoes from Zara, TopShop, Uterque, & Other Stories and their ilk.
Author of How To Walk In High Heels, Camilla Morton, is a disciple of the Manolo Blahnik heel and says: “Our children are brought up reading fairy stories and we associate heels with transformation. It’s about the glass slipper that Cinderella slips on before being whisked off to the ball.
“We don’t swan around in crino-lined ball gowns and horse-drawn carriages but we can wear the heels with the magical aura.
“Putting on a pair of heels is totally transformative: they make you feel something special is going to happen.
As young girls many of us looked up to our mothers wearing high heels and they symbolised everything that was womanly in the world.”
While I welcome the choice to wear whatever footwear I like and am raising my 10-year-old daughter to know that being a woman is about so much more than the way you look, the allure of the heel will never be diminished in my eyes.
As the footwear historian William A Rossi points out: “Most women prefer a trip to hell in high heels than to walk flat-heeled to heaven.”