In Defence of High Waists and Low(er) Shoes

It has been just over a year since I got fed up with not fitting into my pre-baby clothes and decided to get a new, more old school wardrobe. (See: Hate the way modern fashions treat your curves? Go retro.) It’s the classic story really – woman has child, woman starts wearing higher pants and lower shoes. Except that I would not have it any other way, and I’d like to share why:

#1 SHOES. Being uncomfortable looks uncomfortable.

I know what you are thinking. There are loads of hot looking photos of women (and a few men) in extremely high heels. They don’t look uncomfortable at all! But while this statement - being uncomfortable looks uncomfortable - is not often true of professional photographs because there are teams of stylists and art directors making professional model types (like myself, sometimes) look effortless in ill-fitting stilettos, this adage absolutely holds true for real life:

Well-dressed persons hobbling around in bad shoes – too high, too small, badly designed, etc – very quickly cease to be a well-dressed persons. They just look like people in pain. Because they are.

We’ve all seen the jerky movements of the foot-oppressed as they struggle down the street in eye-watering pain, wearing ill-advised shoes they probably paid a great deal of money for and will most likely hurl across the room when they get home. The sheer volume of women hobbling around in downtown Sydney (or pick your major Westernised city), the fact that men rarely, if ever walk around in such visible shoe-induced discomfort, and the reality that more women now reportedly suffer injuries from stilettos than sport, should give us serious pause when we spot what are commonly called ‘skyscraper heels’ for sale in shop windows across our fine city. I don’t care how pretty they look on a shelf. I now no longer shop in those places, because shoe designers offering only towering, badly designed, pin-heeled skyscraper shoes, or ballet flats with soles as thin as cardboard can frankly suck my toe.

(Above: Agyness Deyn takes a tumble. Every catwalk model has done it, though not always as gracefully. It’s little surprise Ms Deyn often wears, and designs, Dr Martens.)

High heels and stilettos are, of course, attractive at times. I own and enjoy a few pairs, though admittedly the heels are all three and half inches high or less, which by today’s footwear industry standards practically makes them walking shoes. But the shoes I wear day to day and on most evenings out are now 1940s and 1950s style shoes (often modern reproductions with better cushioning than they had 60 years ago). Almost all of the shoes from this era are Katharine Hepburn-style flats, have low platforms with a moderate rise at the heel, or are kitten heels like the comfy, 2 inch high kitten heels I’m wearing in the image at the top of the page. (Yup, they are only 2 inches high and look plenty high enough, don’t they?)

In these lower shoes women managed to be fantastically glamorous. And they could not only walk but dance.

Rocket Originals and Remix do fab 40s reproduction shoes and thankfully some - some - designers still make a good kitten heel. The ones I am wearing in the picture above are from Sambag, are 2 inches high and super comfortable for the dressy moments. And I can run for the train.

(Below: Just look at these cool 1940s shoes in this image of singer Marilyn Hall walking down Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood, CA, August 1944. Not a skyscraper heel to be found.)

#2 WAISTLINES. Less is not more.

As the waistlines in our clothing have dropped and our actual waistlines haven’t (something overlooked by evolution, perhaps) many of us have discovered an expanse of flesh commonly known as ‘muffin-top’. Many of us, on being confronted with this wayward gathering of flesh above our hipbones and below our ribs, wonder why it is there. Why did I not do my sit ups? Why have I not dieted? WHY IS THIS FLESH HERE?

I am here to tell you it’s your stomach and sadly, most designers seem to have forgotten that you have one. You need a stomach for living, of course. At meal times you put yummy things in it. Your stomach is supposed to be there, as are your hips and the skin over both (yes, with those folds and things when you move). Yet very low pants persist, and often they are tight and made of unforgivingly stretchy fabrics. It’s the whole, I can’t sit in these darned jeans without mooning everyone issue. So we take to wearing big tops that cover us a bit, except in a stiff breeze or when our children tug at our waists and suddenly we are mooning everyone again, or ‘whale-tailing’ and generally feeling needlessly flabby.

It’s silly. Because on the one hand, many (most?) women have some delightfully fleshy bits in the area of the stomach and hips, and readily put on weight in those areas first as opposed to say, their thumbs. On the other hand, modern beauty standards demand that these areas of the body are not fleshy. At all. They must be taut and toned and air-brushed flat, as hard as shins and almost as frequently seen, too, because finally, to complete this mad equation, these un-catered-for fleshy bits are the ones left exposed by modern low-slung jeans and pants.

When designers stopped accounting for the flesh above our hipbones, I stopped buying their threads. You can, too.

If you are sick of pants you can’t sit in, try higher waists like our foremothers did. They looked simply awesome. (As our forefathers did, too. Yes, guys, I’m talking to you and your plumber’s crack.)

Many ladies in the mid-century were more petite (yet curvy, in terms of waist to hip ratio) but if you are super tall like I am, you can try the extra long leg length options at Freddies of Pinewood. (I love their Rivet Jeans in extra long.) If skinnier high-waisted jeans are your thing, try Kustomville. Miskonduct and Vivien of Holloway both have an excellent range of Hepburn-style pants and 50s jeans. Try the pencil skirts and skirt suits from Jacqui E, which are built for women’s bodies (amazing!), or for the curvy ladies, try pencil skirts from Vivien of Holloway which are particularly good if you have a waist to hip ratio of more than 10 inches. Others, like Big Beautiful Barbara Brown, do custom-made retro styles in literally any size.

Your local vintage shop has wonderful, original gems, just waiting to be loved, and I adore StutterinMama on Etsy, who lists everything by waist measurement to make it simple, and refunds if she charged too much for shipping.

Always go by measurement and not dress size, as vintage and retro reproduction clothing rarely fits as modern clothes do. You might just end up giving away all those old hipbone hugging, muffin-top inducing things for good.

(Below: FABULOUS and more fabulous. Higher waistlines need not be a thing of the past.)

So, this was the blog wherein I defended higher waists and lower heels, because someone had to.

The thing is, these days, women in most countries can wear what they want. Public nudity is still illegal, generally speaking (darn), but otherwise nearly anything goes. Even for those of us who work in environments where our clothing has a direct impact on our careers, we thankfully have options. (Uniforms aside.) So if you are worried about impression management and grooming because it helps pay your bills, or you simply enjoy aesthetics and style, as I do, you should not get snookered into the false notion that you have to be uncomfortable to dress well, just because what you see in brand clothing stores and glossy magazines is breathtakingly impractical. If few modern designers make things that fit your shape, search out designers or vintage clothes that do suit you. Not Kate Moss or even Tara Moss, but you.

Experiment. Have fun. And maybe, just maybe, like me you’ll find greater freedom, comfort and style in the lower shoes and higher waists our foremothers wore. You will look fabulous and more importantly feel pretty darned fabulous too.

Good luck.

PS I’ll leave you with the iconic Ms Marilyn Monroe in all her curvy, high-waisted pencil skirt and moderate-not-skyscraper-heeled glory:

18 Comments

  1. Nicole

    I can’t quite come at the high waisted pants yet as I’m so short I fear I may look like Tweedledee but love the heels.
    Thanks for the links. Love being sent off down the rabbit hole.

  2. JessB

    Lovely! I love wearing my retro 50′s style dresses with very low heels from Ziera, or even with their boots! I’m all about being comfortable these days, while also looking good.

  3. I agree whole heartedly with everything you say on this subject Tara. I adore high waisted clothes and lower heels. At the moment I’m studying fashion design and definitely look forward to bringing back the high waist from now on! Marilyn oozed glamour and I think stepping back in time is a great idea…

  4. Deborah Moss-Peacey

    Thankyou! thankyou! THANKYOU! Tara!………..
    I Have given permission for myself to wear stylish Flats as I have been a slave to fashion……….my Novo flats are my verrrry best friends, especially for those long shopping treks.
    I’m over skyscraper heels that only look amazzzzzzzzing!! and sexy But Ohhhhhhhhhhh!!! my Aching Feet!! and the pain is written all over my face by the end of the night!
    My sexy confident look is definitely Lacking for fear of tripping over!
    This Smart fashion Princess Always Looks for those comfortable Heels for Special Events these days as I am only 5 ft 5 and am thankful for that extra Height, and now wear a verrrrry sexy confident Pain free face these days ;)

  5. Love this post! In my early twenties, I bought into the sky high heels trend and thought it was some sort of achievement if I could spend a day at the office looking hot and pretending to be comfortable in shoes that were killing me. I live in Melbourne, so naturally I ended up at the racing carnival in a pair of towering wedges that were all the rage in 2006. Boy, did I look smokin’…too bad that I stumbled in those shoes, sprained my ankle and then developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a nervous system disorder which later spread from that ankle and now effects my whole body. I never would have thought that my quest to look like fashionable society’s version of pretty could leave me disabled, but that’s exactly what happened.

  6. Beth

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. The low rise pants/skirts is a fashion that won’t go away. It has been my pet peeve since it started and I refused to go along with it. I have to much junk in the front to wear them and so do most of the people(women and men) who are wearing them. I have been traumatized so many times by total strangers that if I had a nickel for each time, I would be rich beyond belief. I haven’t been able to wear any heels above 1 3/4 inches for many years as I broke my left ankle in 1996 and can’t wear anything higher. The thing with higher waist pants is that it makes your legs look longer there by making you look thinner. It makes you butt look higher and tighter instead of dragging the ground like low rise pants/skirts. The low rise pants makes your body look out of proportion so that you look like you have no legs and all body. The strength of denim never ceases to amaze me for sure when I see a huge muffin top pouring over super tight low rise jeans. It never looked attractive on plumbers and mechanics and it doesn’t look attractive on anyone else when they traumatize everyone by revealing too much information about themselves. I don’t need to know you have a tattoo just above your crack, I don’t know you well enough for that information. Even if I do know you, I don’t need to know that information. I have family members that I have tried to consul them about wearing those types of pants/shorts/skirts, but, they just think I am crazy. I appreciate that someone else out there is done with this style. I pray it will finally die off.

  7. Janine

    Yep.. I have accepted that my curves look much better in vintage, that my ankles LOVE me if I wear low heeled shoes.. and all that money I wasted on ridiculous shoes now goes to sourcing the perfect vintage acoutrements

  8. DannyJane

    The last pair of really high heels I owned was a pair of glittery black beauties I bought in 1991. Shortly after that I saw an xray of what super high heels actually do to a human foot.

    I immediately gave away those pretty shoes and I have worn flats almost exclusively since. Now in my 60s I still have pretty, healthy feet despite being a diabetic while all my friends suffer from hammertoes, corns, bunions and fallen arches.

  9. Sarah Jane

    Thank you for including so many links! As a curvy lady and a plantar fascitis sufferer I am constantly on the lookout for additional resources to keep myself fashionably and flatteringly clad. I wonder if you have taken a look at Worishofer shoes(http://www.zappos.com/worishofer-women-shoes~1)? They have a fun, retro, granny chic look and fit with many vintage-inspired fashions. I haven’t snagged them yet but I’m super curious.

  10. Not to hijack this great story into purposes of my own, but I have a few pairs of high-waisted jeans available on my website, http://www.crimsongardenia.com – but only a couple.
    I can’t get anymore in as the manufacturer isn’t making them (the looser fit ones) anymore.
    I have a pair myself and they never fail to elicit compliments. I admit, I did feel a bit Kath Day-Knight until I got used to the high waist again, but I absolutely love them now. Zero chance of plumbers cleavage! :-)

  11. Lisa Forrest

    Hi Tara

    Thanks for your blog.

    Even before my son arrived almost eleven years ago I was a fan of the high-waisted, wide-bottomed, cuffed pant – especially pin-striped! And, like you, lucky enough to be the right height for the look. But through 2003, after my 4.5kg baby arrived and hipsters were predominant, I was saved by an Easton Pearson embroidered skirt that I wore to death – so a big thank you to them!

    To continue your theme … for the beach I recently discovered and Australian company that your readers might want to check out:

    http://www.sirensswimwear.com.au.

    The swimwear is all 50′s inspired. This summer I have the blue polka dot bikini (a look I had to give up long before my son was born). EVERY time I go to the beach a woman approaches me with a compliment and a request for purchase information.

    Best wishes
    Lisa Forrest

  12. Sandra Kirlew

    Totally agree with everything you’ve written. Have been trying to find high waist jeans for ages. The ones they say are high waist are not!. Have recently discovered Allanah Hill which I love. I also sometimes make good finds at second hand shops. As for shoes – same thing – always looking for pretty shoes with a lower heel – believe it or not I found some at Big W! – and I’ve had people ask me where I get them from. Inspiring thoughts Tara; thanks.

  13. Paula

    Like you, I’ve embraced the vintage look and find I am refinding myself and a greater sense of calm and style about how I put myself together as a result. One of the facebook pages mentioned in your blog ‘Big Beautiful Barbara Brown’ no longer does custom orders :-(
    PS Can you share the red lipstick shade you are wearing in your 40′s photo?
    Ta.
    Paula

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