So long, high heels. I have been too comfy, for too long, to go back

The last snap of my wedding night was taken at 2.30am, after a marathon disco reception. I’m walking the few minutes home for a nightcap, with a convoy of friends. I started the night wearing a green lamé frock and my “bridal” Mary Jane shoes: black, suede, ankle straps, pointed toes and a 3.5in spike heel. I called them, as most Manolo owners seem to, “the comfiest stilettos on Earth”. Relatively speaking, this was true. Nonetheless, the picture shows me hobbling up the hill in stockinged feet, champagne-stained shoes swinging from my fingers. I ached for a fortnight.

I wonder now if my poor hooves could do that again, having been mostly housebound for months. After a lifetime in vertiginous heels, have my feet spread, widening permanently, never to squeeze into a court shoe again? I may never find out. Since lockdown I have donated, sold and given away dozens of pairs of heels, and have no plans to buy more.

Like so much in 2020, this is unprecedented. I have always been a die-hard heels girl. “No flats except Birkenstocks and trainers” was my rule, the latter allowed only when I absolutely, positively didn’t need to look nice. Trainers were for nipping to the greengrocer, or a McDonald’s drive-through. I never dreamed of wearing anything lower than 2.5in for work, or to a restaurant, bar or event. My flattest proper shoes were block-heeled ankle boots my friends all considered party wear. I wore them to walk the dog.

The once-inconceivable transition began in 2019 with a pair of Grenson hiking boots, and ended in 2020 with a global pandemic. I was a late adopter of comfort, arguably a late acknowledger that I might be even comfier with my feet flat on the ground. Gradually, over the months pre-Covid, I found myself reaching more often for chunky heels or flats. For the first time, I got a taste for zipping around town, taking half the time I usually do to run errands. I caught trains I might otherwise have missed, and found that I didn’t have to precisely balance my laptop, handbag and any shopping to prevent wobbling. I strode over cobbles without fretting about breakage of bone, heel or bank. My highest stilettos gathered dust and were returned to their boxes.

Then, as important things happened in the world, or ground terrifyingly to a halt, I had nothing to dress for but a daily hour in the park. Anything dressy or smart seemed suddenly deeply weird. I occupied the anxious, nothing-y days with soothing busywork that included culling my wardrobe of high heels. The low-hanging fruit went first: some agonising 4in Guccis to eBay, then several pairs of Hasbeens sandals to a nearby clothes bank. Some towering Kurt Geiger skyscraper courts, bought, tellingly, for next to nothing in a sale, were sent to a friend. Two by two, and with almost zero hesitation or regret, I removed the precarious pillars of a past life.

I consider now how I came to live the old one. It’s not that I hated being short (I am 5ft 3in, and have always rather liked it), more that I delighted in the way a low centre of gravity – so astoundingly useless in sport – allowed me to run for a bus, dance all night, and totter home atop what were little more than knitting needles. My mostly taller friends would marvel at my party trick, expressing good-humoured envy of my talent. In stilettos I stood prouder, looked slimmer, felt that cliched sense of feminine “power”: I was elevated in every sense.

I never took the view that other women needed high heels to look elegant, sophisticated or sexy – but, for me, heels had come to represent adulthood. I went from Dr Martens and Kickers at school, to Adidas Gazelles in my rave and Britpop years, to towering, beautiful stilettos in my mid-20s, when Sex And The City and Jimmy Choo were key cultural touch points. Going up in the world, feet first, felt like an important rite of passage. High heels were such a constant aspect of my identity that friends couldn’t imagine me without my feet arched, calves tensed.

Now, just the thought of it makes me feel tired and old. High heels no longer make me feel powerful; they make me feel thwarted. As much as I have never wanted to be younger than my age, there is something unexpectedly joyful about the youthfulness of flats. It feels carefree to be light on one’s feet, confident in the unlikelihood of a bunion, stumble or sprain, wearing shoes one could more easily run away in. I don’t want to be foiled at the last minute by footwear that slows my getaway (I used to kid myself that I’d have the speed and the wherewithal to repurpose a stiletto in self-defence). Nor do I want to be taxi-taxed for being a woman who can’t walk another 20 minutes in her shoes.

While making the big stuff very hard, Covid has made life’s minor dilemmas much easier. Working from home hasn’t only made flats acceptable for work – it’s made anything else feel downright odd. Teetering on spikes for a simple meeting or lunch seems like twerking in a corset and girdle: there’s no need for it. Soft, buttery Gucci-style loafers, pristine Adidas Stan Smiths, canvas Superga plimsolls, furry Ugg slipper mules, smart Oxfords and brogues from Grenson, combat boots from Dear Frances and pixie boots from Everlane: the choice of stylish flat footwear is astonishingly vast. The sort of shoes you might once have slipped on for the commute across town, while some 3in delight was carried around in a tote bag like a spoilt teacup chihuahua, are no longer the consolation prize. As we enter the eighth month of unprecedented weirdness, I have been too comfy, for too long, to go back.

There is a chance, of course, that by the time we have anything to dress up for again, the extended absence of heels may have made the heart grow fonder, and we’ll lunge gratefully for the stilettos, and party. But this doesn’t feel like a crisis that we’re going to stride out of, like VE Day; no moment of popping champagne corks and snogging strangers in the streets, more a cautious, incremental push-pull before we settle on a new normal.

My new perspective is a good 2in lower than before, but I no longer buy into my own former reasoning – that only heels flatter the leg. Nonsense. The pointed toes of Acne Studios’ Jensen ankle boots (bought secondhand on eBay) make my legs look inches longer, while adding an almost negligible 1.5in in height. My low, kitten-heeled, leopard-print Mary Janes, gifted by my friend Marian and loved but unworn for months (because I decided I didn’t “have the legs for them”) are, it transpires, infinitely more flattering than the 3.5in Louboutins I bought on day 26 of my cycle and wore to two agonising weddings before selling at a huge loss. High-waisted jeans and flat shoes somehow make me seem taller than low-rise denim and high heels. I may not understand the maths (it was ever thus), but I do know that flat shoes do not equal stumpy legs. It’s all a matter of proportion.

As I slowly sell or donate a lifetime’s collection of spikes, I’ve kept a couple of pairs on hand, for old time’s sake. The wedding Manolos remain, for posh events, funerals and the like. There are some cheap crimson courts I wanted from the moment I saw the video for David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, aged eight; and a pair of Louboutin Mary Janes that spontaneously pop open, making me feel too guilty to sell them to someone unsuspecting.

Should we ever again be allowed to congregate inside a church, register office or hotel for a wedding (my final footwear frontier), I still have the means to peer over a congregation of hats. I am well covered for those times when I long to hear the delicious scrape of exposed stiletto on wet pavement; for when I want my spine to throw out my bum and shoulders so that I stride like a woman with a vendetta; for when I want to ramp up an otherwise underwhelming outfit by a good couple of inches; or for when I simply wish to gaze at some loveliness from a past life.

In the meantime, I haven’t lowered my standards. My life may have changed, but I remain the same person, with the same limits. Heel or no heel, I will never, ever wear Crocs.