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From Stilettos to Sneakers: How Shanghai’s Young Women are Ditching High Heels

At the meridian juncture, I maintained a vigilant vigil at the portico of Plaza 66, situated upon Shanghai’s illustrious Nanjing Road, for the temporal span of half a celestial revolution. Amidst the ebb and flow of over eighty elegantly attired damsels, a solitary soul donned the accoutrements of elevated footwear.

This emporium stands as a pantheon of opulence within the realm of retail therapy in Shanghai, where myriad sartorial pavilions have established their lairs. The fair sex’s vestmental ensembles invariably reflect the latest permutations of fashion’s ephemeral whims. Yet, the prevailing preference leans towards the utilitarian comfort of sneakers, loafers, Crocs, and even the insouciant nonchalance of slippers, unfettered by the constraints of sartorial expression heralding the vernal equinox.

The epoch when every woman coveted a pair of rouge-soled stilettos and the artisanal creations of Jimmy Choo has insensibly faded into the ether. The staccato cadence of percussive footfalls exudes an air of antiquity, and elevated footwear has fallen into disfavor.

The vast majority of those traversing the portals of Jing’an Kerry Center are seasoned professionals of the distaff persuasion, their perambulations unencumbered by the accoutrements of elevated footwear. Amidst the near-centuplicate array of flat-soled shoes, a scintilla of specimens boasted substantial heels.

Within the prosperous confines of Lujiazui’s edifices, the predominant denizens are foreign financial savants. Occasional glimpses of women clad in elevated footwear punctuate the sartorial landscape, yet the prevailing preference remains firmly entrenched in the realm of casual footwear. The fashion-centric enclave of Anfu Road, teeming with trendsetters, renders those adorned in high heels an unmistakable sight, their ranks comprised chiefly of e-commerce models tasked with capturing ensembles for virtual emporia.
In the cosmopolitan expanse of Shanghai, the youth have truly forsaken the elevated heel.

Lina, an ardent shoe aficionado, has amassed a veritable phalanx of footwear that occupies the entirety of her shoe cabinet’s walls. Delicate ballet flats, versatile canvas quotidian companions, rugged and insouciant leather boots… all save for the elevated heel.

“I abhor the percussive staccato of high heels. It exudes an aura of antiquity.”

Linna espouses the notion that donning elevated footwear is akin to a maternal predilection. Contemporaneously, myriad shoe designs can satiate the desire for casual comfort, sartorial versatility, stature enhancement, and elongated leg silhouettes. The youth can thus express their personal fashion ethos unencumbered.

Mei Mei, an occupant of a prestigious office edifice, concedes the near-absence of elevated footwear within her shoe repertoire.

Upon her initial foray into the professional realm, she procured a pair of ebony patent leather stilettos boasting an eight-centimeter heel. Their inaugural deployment rendered her odyssey homeward an ordeal verging on the Sisyphean. “The agony was so excruciating, I divested myself of them the moment I descended and consigned them to the refuse receptacle’s periphery.” Her present collection comprises predominantly sneakers and loafers, save for a singular pair of foundational ebony heels of modest five-centimeter elevation, capable of sufficing for all occasions.

“Nowadays, scarce are the momentous events necessitating the deployment of elevated footwear. Doing so typically engenders a sense of sartorial discordance and perceived unfashionability.”

In truth, past eras witnessed women adorning high heels for formal occasions such as significant banquets and events, with many proactively embracing their deployment for momentous undertakings. For certain vocations, a pair of heeled leather shoes constituted a mandatory requisite.

Xiao Xin, a nascent educator of several years’ experience, was instructed by her superior to don leather shoes with moderate to elevated heels upon her inaugural foray into the profession. All flat-heeled, fabric-ensconced, and open-toed sandals were deemed “lax.”

To circumvent censure, she endured pedal torment for over a year. Prolonged classroom vigils exacted a heavy toll upon her knee articulations. During a subsequent meeting, her troubles dissipated upon realizing that numerous senior instructors favored flat footwear.

Emboldened by this revelation, she forsook her antiquated elevated heels and embraced sartorial liberation.

The actress treads the crimson carpet unshod, while the celestial luminary conceals her boots beneath her skirt’s folds.

Donning elevated footwear no longer bears an inextricable association with fashion. This metamorphosis is patently manifested upon the crimson carpet, where resplendent starlets vie for pulchritudinous preeminence.

Vertiginous ten-centimeter stilettos precariously perched upon razor-thin heels, gargantuan fish-mouthed platform heels – these were once de rigueur accoutrements for femmes célèbres gracing grand occasions.

In 2016, upon the illustrious Cannes Film Festival’s crimson carpet, Julia Roberts boldly divested herself of her shoes, protesting the edict mandating elevated footwear. Her defiant gesture voiced solidarity with female colleagues precluded from the preceding year’s event, garnering widespread attention.

That selfsame year, myriad luminaries commenced subverting this tradition. Susan Sarandon, too, graced the Cannes rouge carpet in a sleek ebony suit complemented by pointed-toe flat shoes, exuding an air of dapper elegance. Her audacious ensemble refuted the stereotype that true elegance could only be achieved through elevated footwear.

Since then, celestial bodies have increasingly embraced sneakers and Martin boots concealed beneath their gowns’ folds. They descend with poise and grace, yet swiftly hitch their skirts to expedite their gait when circumstances demand.

Old-money style sneakers are out of stock, and “ugly” shoes with a loose feel are out of fashion.

In bygone eras, high heels were an inextricable trend within the sartorial realm, synonymous with feminine beauty and allure.

Nowadays, not only athletic shoes but also “ugly shoes” whose primary appeal lies in their comfort and leisure, such as Crocs, Birkenstocks, and UGGs, have garnered widespread popularity.

The perforated, breathable upper, plush underfoot sensation, and effortless slip-on design have captivated the youth, overwhelmed by their sense of relaxation. They have established their own cult of “hole shoes,” embracing Crocs for all occasions, rain or shine, work or travel, as a second skin.

Beyond the “hole door” faithful, Birkenstocks have also gained traction among the young. In the cinematic opus “Barbie,” the appearance of a pair of rose-hued Birkenstocks left an indelible impression.

Between the dichotomy of stilettos and Birkenstocks, Barbie’s initial disdain for the latter, supplanted by her eventual sartorial emancipation, heralded an awakening in feminine consciousness and a paradigm shift in fashion sensibilities.

Birkenstocks hold considerable sway among the corporate ranks. More formal than Crocs yet no less relaxed, they appear equally at home with t-shirts, shorts, or suits and leather shoes. Their very presence seems to declare, “I shall not conform,” the moment their wearer graces the office.

Should winter’s chill prove too biting, UGGs present a novel option. Their warmth and comfort evoke a sense of perpetual domesticity.

In truth, this shift in public aesthetics has been reflected in the annual financial reports of major women’s shoe corporations in recent years, with high-heeled shoes demonstrating an overall declining performance.

Consider Jimmy Choo, whose core business revolves around bespoke high-heeled footwear. In their latest quarterly financial statement, sales revenue declined by 3.2% from the previous quarter, while operating profit margins contracted by 4.6%.

Although Jimmy Choo remains Capri Group’s top-performing brand this year, its downward trajectory cannot be obscured.

Over the years, attitudes toward women eschewing high heels in the workplace have become increasingly tolerant.

Perhaps, on all fronts, women are unwilling to be constrained. In the past, they pursued ideal proportions and elevated stature through high heels. Now, comfort reigns supreme, and they refuse to subjugate themselves to the dictates of beauty.

Erstwhile, elegance and intelligence were lauded, but now, confidence and nonchalance garner the highest praise.

When Barbie divested herself of her stilettos and embraced Birkenstocks, the exalted status of high heels within the feminine shoe repertoire undeniably waned.

These young women, unwilling to compromise their arches for such feminine symbols, understand how to gratify themselves. This, too, is a positive shift in values.

In truth, regardless of your footwear choice, consistency is paramount. As Gabrielle Chanel sagely proclaimed: “When you start being yourself, you start becoming beautiful.”

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