We've all been there: You're shopping for shoes and spot a pair that makes your heart quicken — only to pull them off the shelf and find that your dream shoes are attached to a cork heel of doom. Do you overlook it and buy them anyway? Or do you put them back, bitterly cursing the hell from which cork heels come?
The fact that most people would answer B shows how much of a make-or-break element heels really are. A good one can elevate a basic shoe to the sublime. But a good shoe with the wrong heel is like a catchy song with a wack chorus, a cute dude with no text game — it makes an otherwise-lovely prospect a total nonstarter.
Because they're the
raison d'etre of footwear, heels are also a natural focus for designers' creativity, and the place where trends are most evident, too. The uppers of shoes don't undergo much in the way of transformation from season to season. But a heel's height, chunkiness, and the presence or absence of a platform can define an outfit — or an entire era.
In tribute to the most expressive part of your shoes, we're breaking down the 12 most distinctive heel trends this fall. The shapes range from sophisticated to surreal, heights from barely-there to towering; some curve sensually, while others are sharp, spiky, and take-no-prisoners. There's really no one "must-have" heel this fall — the only bad one is a boring one, and your guide to avoiding that misstep is right here.
The Soft Stiletto The Soft Stiletto is the first of several trends on this list for which we have Demna Gvasalia to thank. It was he who introduced Balenciaga's Knife Boots on the spring 2017 runway, and they're still going strong for fall. Knife Boots are your standard sexy, super-pointy, toe-pinching stiletto — but covered in Spandex dyed in eye-searingly bright shades of atomic green, ultraviolet purple, or Pepto pink. They became an instant must-have among fashion-y types (with a spare $1,400 to spend), and are the latest in a line of sock boots that have been elevated to cult status, after similar styles by Vetements and Yeezy. The fabric covering somehow adds a touch of irony and menace to the shoes, not to mention a distinctly fetishistic feel. Maybe it's their ineffable weirdness and perversity that explains the Soft Stiletto's frequent appearances on Instagram and the ubiquity of D.I.Y. versions on YouTube — all of highly questionable safety. But hey, what's a twisted ankle in the name of fashion?
The Super-Chunk Gucci has been reviving the '70s glam-rock platform for a few seasons now, while Balenciaga nudged them into truly absurd, Gene Simmons-worthy elevator boot territory. But platforms aren't the only thing happening — the fall runways were also chock full of a more '90s take on the style: the ultra-chunky, lug-sole platform. Witness Louis Vuitton's gusseted jodhpur boots, Coach's Moon Boot-esque flatforms, Sacai's club-kid version of logger boots with their wood and rubber soles — and the most period-perfect, peak '90s pair of all, Marc Jacobs' oxblood loafers with a towering, ultra-chunky five-inch heel. After the reissues of the Buffalo Spice Girls sneakers and the Steve Madden slide, we can't say we weren't prepared for this.
The Baby Block Chunky heels have been having a moment for a while now, but for fall, there's a super-specific type that seems to predominate: namely, a wide block heel that's a little too tall to be a flat, but a little too short to be a high heel. We're calling it the Baby Block, and one and a half to two inches is just about the right height. We saw the Baby Block add some heft to oxblood buckle boots at Prada and prop up lace-up boxer boots at Gucci; we've seen it with a space age-y angled front at Miu Miu, and in contrasting black on mod glittery knee boots at Chanel. This heel is perfect for making your fall boots look current while still keeping them comfortably walkable.
The Claw Not to be confused with the whimsical "comma heels" invented by Roger Vivier in 1963, The Claw is best typified by Dior's skinny, pitch-forward heel: It’s a style that manages to be both ladylike and dramatically Disney villainess-worthy at the same time, and has become a signature of the house over the past few seasons. But this fall, other designers are picking up on the shape, albeit in chiller form. At Nina Ricci, the Claw is metal-tipped and attached to buttery-leather thigh-high boots, while at Versace, heels with the subtlest forward slant made their appearance on everything from floral-embroidered boots, to sleek ankle-strap pumps emblazoned with the world "Unity." It's a take on the trend that's a little more femme than fatale.
The Crystals Ah, translucent footwear — that trend you want to be edgy, but really just ends up lovingly showcasing your foot sweat to the world. A better bet? Translucent heels — they give you the same futuristic feel, but are guaranteed to never fog up. This is definitely a style where chunkier is better: Ellery attached fat Lucite cylinders to royal purple velvet boots, Dries Van Noten finished its white pumps with crystal-cut blue heels, and Marni, of course, made the wackiest pair of all, setting its skinny-strapped sandal atop an actual crystal ball. Reports on what it's like to walk on an actual piece of rock are thus far scant (we're guessing not so comfortable?), but you can't deny these are bound to be the most eye-catching heels in the room.
The Dominatrix Amazon-woman, super-high heels are never exactly out — but the style that reigned supreme in the mid-aughts, when literally everyone either wore or wanted a pair of five-and-a-half-inch YSL Tributes, started to feel pretty stale by 2012, when the zillionth pair of knockoff Lita boots tottered by. Which is probably why the last few years have seen a return to chiller heights, from chunky three-inchers to little kitten heels. But the (slight) return of the treacherous, ultra-high heel may be among us. Alexander Wang gave us very "Venus in Furs" shiny, black leather boots with studding and a super-slim heel. Altuzarra's pair were pearl-adorned and vertical-laced, managing to look both Victorian and futuristic. Givenchy's came in red leather with fetish-y lacing from the top all the way down to the toe. And Haider Ackerman's were just plain dangerous-looking: spindly five-inchers with a single sole (no relief via platform here). This style is for people who are down with being a little bit terrifying.
The Fatback Sorry if you thought this was going to be about pork — The Fatback is a rectangular heel so named because, when attached to a shoe or boot, it creates the illusion that it's skinny from the side, and wide from behind. It's a style that appeared on lots of shoes in the late '90s and early 2000s (this writer just thrifted a spectacular pair of Stuart Weitzman ankle boots with this exact heel). The Fatback comes in many different forms — super-slim and elegant at Stella McCartney and Gabriela Hearst, chunky and croc-embossed at Mulberry, low and mod at Phillip Lim — but its sudden ubiquity on the runways is yet another signal that there really is no stopping that fast-approaching early-aughts revival we've been telling (warning?) you about.
The Fluevog Fashion's funny. As soon as everyone agrees "Ew, Fluevogs are heinous and we're never wearing them ever again," some contrarian cool kid decides, "OMG I'm obsessed with Fluevogs!" And the cycle starts all over again. Fluevogs were exaggerated versions of the curvy Pompadour heels initially worn by King Louis XV's mistress Madame de Pompadour in the 18th century. Canadian shoe designer John Fleuvog made them taller, fatter, and more cartoonish, and they became the iconic, ironic club kid shoe — think Deee-Lite's Lady Miss Kier wearing her Fluevog "Munster" platforms on the cover of her 1990 album World Clique. For fall 2017, London-based designer Mary Katrantzou collaborated with menswear label Louis Leeman on a shoe collection that's well, basically straight Fluevog knock-offs, albeit in delightfully regal brocade satin and fun silver glitter. Also repping the Fluevog revival are Céline's subtler, skinnier, flare-heeled pumps, and Dries Van Noten's curvy heels with a forward slant, which are sort of like Fluevogs-as-Boccioni-sculpture. Fluevog-style heels aren't a major trend yet, but they made enough of an appearance on the runways to make them something we'll probably see more of in the future, because we’re not done with the ‘90s revival until every single trend has been trotted out for a second time.
The Kitten Heel Is there any heel more unfairly maligned than the poor kitten heel? It still frequently tops lists of fashion dont's, and back in January, Twitter delivered a swift and furious backlash, largely in the form of Iyanla gifs, when British Vogue dared to suggest they were making a comeback. But like it or not, the misunderstood style has bubbled back up over the last few years, with Dior, Gucci, and Céline all offering their takes on the ladylike style that dominated the early-'60s and the Manolo Blahnik-obsessed late-'90s. But while kitten heels have never fully gone away, we probably have Demna Gvasalia to credit for removing their old-lady, Upper East Side connotations after he featured them in his fall 2016 Balenciaga collection, and his Vetements spring 2017 collection. The kitten heel was also spotted on bright, low-cut white booties and little gold T-strap heels at Céline, on sexy Victorian-vamp boots at Altuzarra, on suede mules at Jason Wu, and in bizarro form at Marni, where the teensy heels sprout out of a spherical base, making the wearer look like she just stepped in chewing gum. This divisive style is definitely back.
The Pretty Poison These are pretty, girly shoes that get weirder the longer you look at them. The best example is Gucci's two-piece d'Orsay pump, which sports a spray of crystals on its chunky heel, topped with a spine of conical spikes along its back (that'll teach people not to walk too close). Other entries in the category are a little more subtle, like Miu Miu's pointy, cherry-red satin pump with a gold heel, which look both ladylike and menacing, like something a beautiful murderess in a Clouzot film would wear. And Prada serves up its usual dose of ugly-pretty in the form of chunky-heeled sandals covered in irregular-shaped bejewled blobs that are cute...yet also trigger my trypophobia just looking at them.
The Tip-Toe Every season needs at least one wackadoo heel — this fall, it's shaping up to be the Tip-Toe, a style we noticed at Balmain, Chloé, and Gucci. It's a two-tone shoe where the upper and top half of the heel is one color, and the bottom half of the heel is another — making it look like the wearer is sneaking around on tip-toes. We're not exactly sure why the shoe equivalent of Barbie feet is suddenly a thing, but who are we to question the whims of fashion? The most extreme version of the trend, naturally, comes from Maison Margiela, which gave us boots and pumps with a double heel — the one that holds the wearer's actual foot hovers an inch above a second heel that actually touches the ground. The surreal effect makes it look like the wearer is either mincing around in a pair of house mules, or is doing the ol' "my heel broke and I lack cab fare, so I am hobbling home in these shoes." They’re unlikely to replace your any of your more sensible shoes, but we’re glad they exist, if only for the Instagrams.
The V-Cut YSL's $10,000 glitter boots are pretty much the most major thing happening in accessories this fall — they've already been worn by Rihanna, inspired countless odes on social media (new compliment alert: " Your face is as pretty as the YSL glitter boots"), and of course, caused mile-long waitlists at Saks and Bergdorfs. But while the boot's uppers — crystal diamanté-covered and wrinkly as a Shar Pei — have inspired the most talk, there's something big happening at the heel, too. Namely, that cut-out wedge which creates a V-shaped heel (with a bonus inverted-V of negative space). It's a heel we haven't seen much since the '80s, but that we also spotted on the fall runways at Michael Kors and Isabel Marant. Will their appearance on the season's hottest boots make the V-Cut an even bigger trend next season? Verily.