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.
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: