Fashion’s Greatest Underdog: The Kitten Heel

The Intentionally Blank Per Mule in a dressing room at Reformation Bond St.

Say goodbye to fashion over function. You can look both chic and practical with the return of an infamous, retro shoe style: the kitten heel.

Like the mom jean, the choker and the overalls before it, the kitten heel is a fashion trend that feels distinctly reminiscent of the ’90s. Who doesn’t remember watching style icon Carrie Bradshaw run through New York in a strappy and sophisticated pair of Manolo Blahnik heels — a designer who, to this day, remains popular for his tiny-heeled, pointed-toe slingback sandals? While many might assume the trend was lost to the ’90s, the kitten heel is decidedly finding its footing in the modern age.

Blahnik may have proliferated the style via our TV screens, but the kitten heel has since been reintroduced on the catwalks of major fashion houses like Dior, Prada and Balenciaga. Publications like Vogue have been tracing the trend since 2017 — though Vogue received expressions of disbelief on social media platforms, demonstrating the kitten heels’ previous degree of fashion infamy.

Traditionality, kitten heels have been characterized by their height — usually two inches or shorter — and their bland sensibilities. Reserved for grandmothers and children, kitten heels have been regarded as unfavorable stepping stones toward the towering land of high heels. In contrast, high heels have been regarded as the shoe of choice for the fashion forward and the ultra feminine. Today, there appears to be a dissemination of the idea that each concept is mutually exclusive.

“The kitten heel has sort of been seen as the stiletto’s less-sexy cousin,” Gallatin sophomore Sydney Hartzell said. “I think its comeback is a way of reclaiming it.”

In the past, women have faced a severe wardrobe divide between the professional and the feminine. The kitten heel seems to merge these two styles together, allowing for an expression of femininity that doesn’t restrain. Admittedly, it’s much easier to run to a meeting in a kitten keel than a towering stiletto. In cities like New York, where vast amounts of walking is a daily requisite, the kitten heel draws appeal.

“On the days when I’m in the office, I choose a low, sensible heel like a kitten heel, which provides comfort when I walk but is also suitable for a work environment,” Hartzell said.

Last year, small heels outpaced high heels in sales by three percent while overall sales increased 71 percent globally when comparing the third quarter of 2017 to 2016’s third quarter, according to the The Business of Fashion. The rise in popularity can be attributed to fashion’s sentimental draws from the past, but the choice is anything but random. The pieces and styles brought forward into the present must reflect something about the present. Moreover, the kitten heel seems to reflect movements of female empowerment and the ever-increasing pace of modern life.

“It’s a way to feel dressy without entirely killing your feet,” CAS senior Susan Xiao said. Xiao admitted she didn’t realize kitten heels were back on trend.

Today’s fashion culture revels in practicality and comfort. Like the athleisure trend previously popularized by countless celebrities on Instagram, the kitten heel trend is making an appearance on the feeds of today’s most followed bloggers.

For those looking to dip their toes in the trend, some recommend thrifting, the magical realm of fashion where — with practice and patience — style and budget coexist peacefully.

“You have your classic stores like Bloomingdales and Saks, but the best [kitten heels] are always found at second-hand or vintage stores,” Gallatin junior Sydney Lehman said.

For those who are still skeptical of the trend, there are tons of other fun, practical and professional styles to embrace — Gucci loafers anyone? But for those who love heels and have been eagerly awaiting a more user-friendly version, it’s time to embrace the kitten heel.

“I feel like wearing kitten heels is a statement of someone’s timeless style and a nod to the chic shoes of the past,” Lehman said. “I can’t wait to wear them myself.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 26 print edition. Email Zuleyma Sanchez at [email protected]



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