When watching the annual Miss USA competition telecast, many things strike a person as odd, from the swimsuit struts to the flubbed responses in the question round. It's pure schadenfreude for the thinking man or woman (which, of course, is partly why we tune in). But something beyond the thick spray tans and sticky lip gloss was off this year. As the NBC cameras panned up and down on each of the final contestants’ eveningwear outfits, it was the girls’ immense platform shoes that stood out most garishly. It seems that, despite many admonitions from weighty fashion titles like Elle and Vogue to retire clunky platforms for a sleeker, grounded heel, the platform is still alive and well on the beauty-pageant circuit.
Footwear’s platform affliction, one which had lain dormant since the early ’80s, was again set loose upon society around 2003, when the Olsen twins popularized Christian Louboutin’s peep-toe styles. Those shoes only offered a mere half inch of leveled platform height and appear tame when compared with today’s platforms. As with all trends, the look has since evolved and proliferated into a scary assortment of shapes and sizes. The heels favored at pageants in particular boast a monstrous two-inch platform. And most of the styles are not produced with Louboutin’s quality standards—emphasizing the shoes’ clodding-stripper quotient.
At this point in its overwrought history, one which has already moved far lower on the retail scale than Aldo’s towering fluorescent-lit shelves, platform shoes represent little more than a Saturday night out on the Lower East Side—one reached by an hourlong beer-soaked railway journey from a desolate suburb. As far as sartorial social cues go, the platform shoe is not highly ranked. It’s essentially the flip-flop’s spikier counterpart.
So perhaps it's not such a surprise that they're popular with the pageant crowd. Still, one would think that the girls vying to be the country’s prettiest would be a little bit more aspirational in their footwear fashions. It's hard to be judged on your grace and social ease when you've got clunky pleather monsters affixed to your feet. “I think it has a lot to do with the comfort aspect and the fact that having a platform elongates your leg—you’re really able to show off your gown when you have that long look,” the newly crowned Miss USA, Erin Brady, cautiously told The Daily Beast by phone. “And they aren’t as strenuous on your feet. They allow you to stay on the stage as long as possible.” Brady said that she estimates her winning heels had a two-inch platform and a five-inch heel. She sourced the style in her local mall’s outpost of Bakers shoes. “Speaking for myself, I really love platform shoes,” she added.
Prita Kohli, a co-founder of Pageant Professors, a site that produces online pageant coaching videos, offered further insight: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a girl crowned in something that isn’t heels.” She says the pageant world’s affinity for platforms has more to do with assimilation than following trends. “Fashion trends don’t dominate the pageant world like they do in the outside world,” Kohli said, and noted that some trends may be construed as weird by pageant judges. Accordingly so, “when you stay away from trends it’s a little safer. When you spend so much money to win a pageant, you don’t want a trend getting you a zero on the scorecard.” The same goes for on-stage footwear, which must almost always be nude or stripper-shoe clear. Kohli also notes, “It will almost always be a platform.”
Even putting aside pageant culture for a moment, platforms are still around in surplus supply. To make matters worse, many platform offenders pair the look with an equally outdated bandage dress. It’s almost as if this wardrobe equation has become a sure-shot tactic to landing yourself in bed beside an Ed Hardy enthusiast (and even Ed Hardy himself admits that this is no longer a good look).
In January shoe designer Tabitha Simmons told Vogue, “I feel that when your shoe is big and clunky, you can look a bit heavier.” One New York Times article published in April went beyond debasing the platform’s nonmerits, saying that shorter heels offer “enough height to give your bottom a little lift, and your legs a longer line, but low enough that you can pound the pavement pain-free.” But maddeningly, few are heeding this advice. Which basically renders platform-heel wearers’ ethos of “dressing up to look good” entirely baseless. So please listen up. If Vogue told you to jump off of a bridge, we would advise against it. However, it is simply telling you to abandon the thick sole of your heel. And in this case, it would be a good idea to follow the fashion crowd.