On a May afternoon in New York, writer Ingrid Abramovitch, 28, and a friend lit out for the park dressed in the height of neo-'70s chic: light vintage frocks, one crocheted and yellow, the other white cotton dappled with blue flowers, floating over fulsome pairs of clunky black platforms. "We looked down at our feet and realized we had on these heavy, ugly shoes. I thought, this is insane. Maybe I ought to get some nice white sandals."
But where have all the sandals gone? Not to mention the pretty pumps? Judging by the streets and shop windows in fashionable zones, the proper pump with a dainty one-inch heel and the delicate single-soled sandal are dead, replaced by a dense population of three-inch platforms, clogs, hiking boots and other chunky footgear. It all began last year, say shoe designers and style mavens, with the grungy tidal wave of '70s style-retro shoes had to accompany retro clothes, and bell-bottoms and maxi-skirts demanded a big, balancing shoe. Then at recent fall shows in Paris and New York, models in trim suits and evening dresses plodded and clattered down the runways in exaggerated basketball sneakers, boots (from hiking to Eskimo) and cloglike platforms. "A couple of years ago, there were simple shapes and new silhouettes," says Julius Poole, a shoe designer who's worked for Anne Klein and Nine West. "Today, even classic shoes like a pump or a loafer have a platform slapped on them. The designers are just stealing from the street and borrowing from the past." For Alisa Bellettini, producer of MTV's House of Style, the appeal is simple: "Basically everybody wants to look like a rock star. I know I do."
At stores from Macy's to Marshall's, shoe displays offer high-heeled sneakers, richly dyed Birkenstocks and towering studded clogs. May's Harper's Bazaar featured one of the season's hottest, boxiest footwear looks: thick-strapped leather sandals affixed to bulging blocks of cork the size of bread loaves. At Charles Jourdan, open-toed lace-up mules resemble boxing shoes or ice skates on a stacked heel. Chanel has high-top basketball shoes. And one of summer's wackiest uses of the platform: jacked-up open-toed sneakers. Junior Gaultier has turned them into mules, and the design firm Sam & Libby makes them in blue canvas with soaring rubber heels. Even the Vancouver-based designer Peter Fox, who still makes what he calls "polite shoes" and is well known for his bridal designs, admits that some of his wedding slippers have platform soles.
For some women, archival accessories like cork wedgies may cause psychological or physical discomfort. "Cork gives me some angst," says Heather Dowsett, 29, a self-described shoe fanatic. "I'm in the age group where I have painful memories about wearing cork." And while Abramovitch values her platforms, she worries that her next trendy accouterment may be an ankle brace. "As a short person, they're a way of adding height without the pain of heels. But at any moment, I may topple over and break an ankle."