The Kitten Heel Is Back-If Only To Prove How Cool and Sexy It's Always Been


Would I be totally remiss if I didn’t start an essay on shoes by quoting Carrie Bradshaw--or a complete cliché for doing so? I’m torn, considering “Sex and the City’s” titular character did instill in me an attachment to designer footwear that had me hobbling around much of New York in my twenties on the heels of outlandish “red bottoms” whilst ordering sugary cocktails that gave me not much else besides bunions and headaches.


5 rows of Spring 2019 shoes. Featuring sandals, mules and boots.

In hindsight, the shoes, like the drinks, were not really my taste, but I was culling a collection of aspirational stilettos and such because the fictional shoe fiend Bradshaw had taught me the importance of a shoe closet. Modern New York women could skimp on a few things--groceries, mostly--but not designer shoes. When someone looked down at your feet, whether it be on the train or in a job interview, what was attached to your heels mattered. They better be finely-made, of-the-moment, in mint condition, and well, kind of uncomfortable. And all of this wasn’t for the attention or benefit of men--although some did respect the effort--but it was all for other women. New York women judged one another based on our shoe choices--as if they were windows to the souls.

Tibi Otis Mesh Mules imposed on a gradient background
I personally invest in several pairs a season. I don’t know how I have negotiated the expense, but spending hundreds of dollars on shoes seems reasonable, considering the number of wears I will get out of them (well, one hopes). After all, they help define an ensemble and so often are the centerpiece, the focal point around which everything rotates. I don’t think there’s anything more crushing than seeing a fully-formed outfit fall to pieces over the wrong shoes--or better yet, a woman so uncomfortable in her shoes. I think as I’ve aged, I’ve found myself leaning towards footwear that is functional. I never sacrifice style or a certain cool factor, but the idea of hobbling around all evening under a painful platform feels almost embarrassing and quite frankly, antiquated. Heels, by no stretch of the imagination, were invented by a man, and sometimes I fear they were done so in order to immobilize us.
Although most modern women are scaling the corporate ladder in a pair, heels tend to slow us down. We’re rushing to grab taxis places, to only sit almost immediately due to the pressure on our toes. Watching men move so freely through life, unencumbered, makes me downright resentful. Why shouldn’t women also be afforded the option of feeling cool, balanced and sexy? It’s why I’m frankly excited about the rise of the ‘90’s kitten heel--a throwback to the chic, low-to-the-ground style of yesteryear that has blown up on Instagram and beyond. Tibi’s founder Amy Smilovic attributes their rise to a new generation of female designers taking the reins at major brands who are naturally attuned to the needs and demands of women. “For years, whenever shoe designers would do a lower heel, they would treat it as ‘the shoe you give a woman who just isn’t chic enough to pull off a higher heel, or a true flat’,” Smilovic opines. “It was not until...all these young designer collections introduced the new take on the ‘low heel’--the heel that’s not for the woman who can’t walk in a heel, she just wants a lower
heel, because it’s cool.”
Tibi Spring 2019 sandals imposed on a gradient background
Tibi’s Spring 2019 collection is peppered with incredible options of this very make that are already convincing tons of women to put down their stilettos for the comfort and chill of ‘The Otis’. A “choked heel” Smilovic designed the sleek slingback style with her busy crew of female friends in mind. “We are not chauffered from place to place--the kitten heel is perfect for that,” she quips. “You get some lift, but there is a tremendous utilitarian aspect to it. And I’m sorry, but once something becomes so damn functional, it takes over.” And by functional, the designer means she’s able to wear the pair of shoes within three aspects of her life. Take ‘The Scott’ for instance: Smilovic finds herself able to wear the sculptural low heeled, tie-around sandal with track pants, a suit--even an evening dress. As you can imagine, she’s purchased the shoe in every color.
Tibi Scott sandal, otis mules and joe bootie lined up against a gradient background.
But perhaps Tibi’s most practical option comes in the form of the ‘The Bryan’, a refined flip-flop. The all leather style is a far cry from the rubber off-duty beach bum proxies of the same name, but it’s still somewhat of a style risk. Can you really make the minimalist slide work for the office? Smilovic believes so. “For me, what was important was to keep it refined,” she explains. “The leather and the sole being tonal is what adds that chicness to it--it keeps it elevated. So that when you are just wearing your jeans with it, you’re chill, but put together. And if you’re wearing a dress you have a sense of ease without being sloppy. It’s really the perfect shoe.”
Smilovic’s confidence in the shoe’s versatility comes not just in its unprecedented popularity (they have already sold out, by the way), but because shoes are the first thing the designer creates when drafting a new collection. “I can’t design a new collection until I know what shoe we will be in the mood for. If you are feeling for flatforms, or a heel, that will completely affect the mood of the fabrics, the amount of movement you want in the clothing, how strong shoulders will be.” Creating cohesive styles, each pair is able to work with every outfit turn.
Still, for all her shoe options, don’t make her pick: “You’re making me choose between children here…”
And, I mean, as for many adages there are about shoes, they might as well be.
You can tell a lot by a person’s shoe.
If the shoe fits…
Walk a day in another person’s shoe.
Those are big shoes to fill.
The crown jewels of our wardrobes, shoes are rather expressive, emitting messages about status, wealth, accomplishment in ways that so many other items of clothing cannot. I wonder if that’s because they ground us, or is it due to their long history of being so inaccessible? In the late 1800s, for example, most people couldn’t afford footwear, making a pair the height of luxury and privilege. Going without was the norm; it was only the wealthy who were well-hooved. In fact, as science proves, our feet are durable enough to cross any terrain barefoot; it was simply social mores and fashion that propelled their everyday use. Because for all their cultural impact, designer shoes are simply fun.