As she dressed for her 26th birthday recently, Cleo Pac Monrose focused on making a statement. Ms. Monrose, a podcast marketer for Spotify, flicked the dust off her party clothes and the high-heeled lavender pumps she had been hoarding since just before lockdown.
Slipping the shoes on, she felt unsteady at first. “It was like a whole new role for my feet. We haven’t been here in a while,” she said. She soon regained her bearings. “It’s kind of riding a bike,” she said. “You get right back up.”
Wait. Wasn’t it only a moment ago that shoppers were lamenting — or cheering, take your pick — the sorry demise of stilettos and skyscraper heels, ditching their party shoes during lockdown for the comfort of sneakers and clogs?
High-heeled shoes were at the point of flatlining, industry pundits fretted, teetering on the edge of extinction.
Fast forward a few months to find those consumers making a sharp sutorial pivot: trading comfort and function for the joy of dressing up. They are itching, after more than a year of confinement, to step up their style game in towering heels.
“People are so tired of these comfy sloppy outfits,” said Daniel Harris, 18, a freelance fashion consultant in Kingsport, Tenn. “We’ve gone through a year and some change of everybody being holed up in the house. Now we’re popping on those heels again and going out.”
Amen to that, professional trend watchers say. Markdowns of high-heeled shoes have dipped in recent months, one indication that those who can afford them are snapping up “heels” at full price, said Sidney Morgan-Petro, head of retail and buying for WGSN, a trend forecasting service in New York. Last year was an anomaly, so it may be too soon to call this a boom, Ms. Morgan-Petro said. “But high-heeled shoes are having a moment right now.”
Matt Priest, president and chief executive of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, was as upbeat, noting a perceptible spike in the sale of dress shoes. “As events — whether concerts, theater or parties — return, we expect to see a resurgence,” he said. “The question comes down to, will our industry have enough inventory?”
Google searches of “high heels,” one reliable indicator of demand, have climbed in recent weeks, as consumers presumably scoured the marketplace for shoes to wear to weddings, proms, graduations and other formal events.
The fashion glossies, whose business it is to drive sales, seem especially keen to give heels a boost. “I certainly have missed flexing a statement outfit and wearing something uncomfortable, just for the sake of the look,” Christian Allaire wrote in April on Vogue.com, promoting an inventory of slinky tops, corsets and, of course, stilettos. “Beauty is pain, after all!” he argued without irony.
Ileana Zambrano, hardly needed such a push. Prepping for dinner last week at Morandi, a popular West Village trattoria, Ms. Zambrano, who gave her age as “my business,” broke out her Jimmy Choo sandals. “I couldn’t wait to dress up and wear them again,” she said. “I don’t care if I can’t walk.”
Kelly Holmes, 47, Ms. Zambrano’s friend and colleague, showed off a recent purchase, a pair of ultra-tall, pointy-toed goldtone sandals. She had been wearing high heels since restaurants reopened for indoor dining. “Now, when I walk down the street,” she said, “I feel like a gazelle that’s just been born.”
Luxury brands are betting on a continued resurgence. “Women have missed the joy of dressing up,” said Manolo Blahnik, who seems bent on cheering a new generation of Carrie Bradshaws, unveiling new stores in East Hampton, N.Y., and on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. “Women cannot be without their high heeled shoes,” Mr. Blahnik insisted. “They never grow bored.”
Open for business after a two-year hiatus, the shops will be stocked accordingly with calf-leather pumps and sandals, and colorful styles in silk moire. Four-inch heels have been a company mainstay, said Kristina Blahnik, Mr. Blahnik’s niece and the brand’s chief executive. “But we’re bringing back our five-inch heels, which we haven’t done in years.”
To some, four extra inches and even higher “skyscraper” heels remain synonymous with authority. “When Kamala Harris strides down the halls of Congress in her high heels, those shoes, like men’s neckties, signal professionalism,” said Sharon Graubard, a founder and the creative director of MintModa, a trend forecasting firm in New York. “People returning to work, even if it’s only for two or three days a week, will want to make the same effort.” (Notably, however, during the race to the White House, Ms. Harris was better known for her Converse sneakers.)
But frivolity is another driver of sales, keeping Will Cooper, a senior vice president and general merchandise manager of shoes, bags and accessories at Saks Fifth Avenue, bullish on heels. “Over the last months the business has really accelerated,” Mr. Cooper said. Coveted brands include tall sandals from labels including Christian Louboutin, Aquazzura, Amina Muaddi, Bottega Veneta and other high-end European labels.
Designer brands are also a lure at Neiman Marcus, said Maya Sasaki, a senior accessories editor there, especially tall sandals and versions in bright colors, consumers styling them with causal outfits or jeans. “High heels have made people feel good whether they wear them out or stay home,” Ms. Sasaki said.
Certainly for some the Crocs and Birks of recent months represented nothing so much as giving up. Mr. Harris, the trend consultant, who is partial himself to tall bootees and mules, felt thwarted during lockdown and was casting about for most any occasion to trot out his party shoes. Last winter he slipped on a pair of high-heeled boots with a fragile chain detail and square toe. “I looked like a baby giraffe when I put them on for the first time in six months or so,” he said. “I wore them to the mall. I was just so starved to look fabulous.”
Another fashion die-hard, Ms. Monrose resorted while working from home to strolling her bedroom in her lavender pumps. “I had been wanting to wear them for so long,” she said. “When I put them on, I felt like a little kid again, playing in my Disney princess costume drawer.”