Why I don’t wear heels

And look how happy I am about it!

I’ve been writing this blog since 2012, but because I’ve had a fair few new readers in the last six months (HELLO! And THANK YOU!) I thought I would bring it back to basics and explain my love of flat shoes and, more importantly, why I don’t wear heels. Ever. I don’t even own a kitten heel or a wedge, and giving up heels was one of the best decisions of my life, for both my mental and physical wellbeing.

I’ve never been a fan of heels, and for me it’s as much about the aesthetic as it is about the comfort (we’ll come back to that bit later). As a teenager in the Nineties, I was really into Britpop, and that brought with it an obsession with retro trainers. I still have a pair of Converse All Stars and some adidas Superstars from that era which are beyond repair and unwearable, but both represent the moment that I really began to discover my own personal style and I’ve never been able to part with them as a result. I’ve had a few hiccups along the way where I lost my style mojo somewhat, mostly when I started working in an office environment and felt pressure to wear heels like everyone else, but a quick glance at my trainers collection and you’ll see that this is a look I come back to time and again (I’m currently the proud owner of five pairs of my favourite Britpop throwback – adidas Gazelles).

Hannah in 1995

TOP PHOTOGRAPH, COURTESY OF ROGUE MATILDA; PICTURE OF ME IN 1995, HOLLY JOLLIFFE PHOTOGRAPHY

When I left university, I did feel the obligation to dress “like a grown up”, and I inevitably introduced a few platforms and block heels into my wardrobe. In my late-twenties though, any dalliance I was having with heels was cut short when I was diagnosed with a degenerative spinal disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis.  Thankfully, in my case, because it was spotted early I am able to manage the condition and am currently in good health, thanks to gentle exercise and avoidance of things that might aggravate it (tennis, heavy lifting, and, rather brilliantly, hoovering). But in layman’s terms, it means my spine (and in fact, any bone in my body) can get inflamed causing pain and immobility. There was a nine month period when I couldn’t walk without a severe limp, had sleepless nights, and sometimes couldn’t even get up the stairs to bed because my legs wouldn’t work properly. I remember discovering that the shoes which were most comfortable at that time were Nike Air Max, and invested in a black leather pair that I could get away with wearing to work (at the time I was working in a TV production office). Flats might have been having a moment for the past six years or so, but it wasn’t the case in 2004! Stylish flats were pretty hard to find, and you had to be quite imaginative if heels weren’t an option.

trouser suit

Fast forward a few years, and when I started working in fashion I played about with heels a bit again in an attempt to fit into this glamorous new world. I became a fashion intern when I changed my career at the ripe old age of 30, so was keen not to stand out, but I soon learned that a) age was on my side in terms of progressing in my career and b) the whole point of fashion is to embrace your own style. So by 2011 I had ditched the heels again and to my delight, was discovering new brands making great flat shoes for women (Grenson started making women’s shoes around this time), and the high street was starting to offer more than just ballet pumps (which are no good at all if you have a bad back because they offer no support). A year later I started this blog, the catwalk decided that vertiginous heels were over (my timing was accidentally impeccable!) and I haven’t looked back since.

In the seven years I’ve worn nothing but flats I have learnt the following things:

  1. That flat shoes can make you feel EMPOWERED. I know some women say this about heels, and that’s great if they work for you, but if all heels do is make you feel uncomfortable and worried about falling over, you’re likely to actually feel more vulnerable. I’ve never forgotten the work event that I cried at the end of because I thought ALL my toenails were going to fall off in my vintage Celine kitten heels (they didn’t, but it was SO PAINFUL!). Wear what you like and what makes you feel good, both emotionally and physically, and your confidence will follow.
  2. That flat shoes can be REALLY FLATTERING. Of course, they’re much easier to find now, but elegant flats can easily work for you for the office, for weddings, and for any occasion at all. Look for almond shaped toes and low vamps (that means that more of the top of your foot is exposed) for maximum leg-lengthening effect. These are subjects that I write about regularly, with updates on the best styles every season, so keep your eyes peeled in a month or so for all the new season stuff when it goes into store.
  3. That flat shoes can make you HAPPY. I am always comfortable, never late (yes, I attribute heels to any previous lateness!), and confident in my personal style (which, it turns out, is pretty much the same as it was when I was 17). Best of all, I’ve spent the last 6 years chatting to some lovely people in my online flat shoe community. If I’ve inspired just one person to realise that shoes can be stylish AND comfortable, then I’m a happy blogger. There’s never been a better time to embrace flat shoes, as shopping is so much more of a heel height democracy now. Once the new season kicks in properly I will be bringing back the Friday Flats Fix – my weekly shopping round-up – with the best new styles and trends around, plus tips on how to wear them.
If you would like to learn more about flat shoes and their history, or know someone else that would, you might also like my book – En Brogue: Love Fashion. Love Shoes. Hate Heels. And for the trainer obsessive, I have another dedicated to sneakers – En Brogue: The Trainers Guide.