A fashionable woman browsing the “shoe salon” at Bergdorf Goodman or Saks this spring could be forgiven for feeling a little disoriented, as if she’d taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in the costume closet at Scores.
One season after the thigh-high boot reached its thundering apotheosis, Fendi, Versace, Prada, Lanvin, and most every other high-fashion house has taken racy footwear a step further, offering shoppers their choice of what might politely be termed “stripper shoes.” It’s as if the world’s top designers all got together sometime last fall for Bellinis and a marathon Pretty Woman viewing party. And the results are daunting: 6-inch stilettos, Lucite platforms, bondage-style detailing, studs, chains, charms, straps, and zippers—all this for price points hovering around $1,000.
Click Image Below to View Our Gallery of Outrageous Stripper Shoes
They’re an orthopedist’s nightmare, a sorority girl’s dream, and a challenge to wear in a way that doesn’t scream “Ashley Alexandra Dupré!” On the bright side, at least they’re versatile. These are shoes that would look equally appropriate at the Hamptons Polo Classic and in the back seat of Tiger Woods’ Escalade. They go from day to night to lady-of-the-night in a flash.
“We're in a time of uncertainty: Will the luxury-goods market survive? How much longer will haute couture be relevant?” says fashion writer Derek Blasberg, author of Classy: Exceptional Advice for the Extremely Modern Lady. “So when things look uncertain, or worse than uncertain, for some there comes an attitude in the fashion community that says, ‘Let's all just throw on our hooker heels and have some fun while we still can.’”
Blasberg and other experts recommend toning the rest of your wardrobe way down if you want a fighting chance of looking “classy” while sporting, for example, the Fendi Lucite Platform Pump. This is a demure, beige, leather-and-Lycra peep-toe shoe, unremarkable except for the fact that it sits atop two solid inches of copper-tinted acrylic and retails $1,400. That may seem like a lot of money for shoes that could hardly be considered an “investment piece,” until you realize that each pair comes with its own disco floor glued to the bottom.
At $1,150, Emilio Pucci’s cutout studded leather sandals look like they’d be perfect for walking up and down someone’s back. For $1,600, the discerning shopper can have a pair of Christian Louboutin’s “ high-heeled cage booties,” “cage” describing both the booties’ woven mesh leather pattern and also where they might best be worn dancing. Giuseppe Zanotti has created both the “Love” platform peep-toe pump, which features a hot-pink stiletto and the words to the song “Because the Night” written out in gemstones.
And it’s not just the Europeans who are sexing up the sale rack at Barneys. Oscar de la Renta got in on the action, with his $855 blue and green leather studded platform sandals. The man who dressed Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush is now making shoes that Elizabeth Berkley’s character in Showgirls would have loved.
Where is this coming from? The stripper-heel phenomenon coincides with the “pantsless” movement and a trend that had buxom runway models showing extravagant amounts of skin on the runways for some Fall/Winter 2010 collections. In its relentless search for all things new, the fashion business has occasionally looked to the world’s oldest profession for inspiration in the past (particularly in the early 1990s). But rarely have so many perilous looks cropped up all at once. It’s as if everyone’s secretly taking advice from Lindsay Lohan, who, in her fleeting capacity as creative director of Emanuel Ungaro, sent models down runway last fall wearing bright red pasties.
“I’m confounded by it,” says Jessica Morgan, one of the editors of Go Fug Yourself. “I understand why the platform is doing so well lately—makes it possible for you to wear high heels but not fall over and crack your face open. But really, I don’t get where the stripper thing is coming from.”
One person who does know, or could hazard a pretty good guess, is Jessica Simmonds, a British stripper and the author of numerous how-to manuals in the art of pole-dancing and general seduction. “What is fashion if not to fantasize about yourself in different looks and situations?” she asks. “Designers are taking inspiration from strippers because their clothing is the ultimate in overtly sexual. A lot of women fantasize about what it must be like to be a stripper so this way the designer gives her a classy way she can make believe.”
Whatever the inspiration, a wise approach to the stripper-heel trend would be, in the words of Elle creative director Joe Zee, not to take it too seriously.
“We’ve seen platform shoes become a huge trend on the runway for umpteen seasons,” Zee says. “It’s not about the literal interpretation of what these things are. Just because there’s a thigh-high boot doesn’t mean everybody should be dressed like Pretty Woman.”
Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, she has also written for The New York Times, The New York Observer, Rolling Stone and Slate, among other publications.