Heel variations in women’s footwear
Investigating some of the footwear heel types in use by shoe designers today.
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Other than the flattest of shoes available, all women’s footwear feature a heel of some kind – whether barely raising the back of the foot from the ground or going to the extreme of requiring practice and a certain ability to wear. Two-inch heels are described as being short enough to avoid making the balls of the feet ache if the wearer is on her feet all day long. Three-inch heels are often viewed as having the most classic and elegant height, while still being sufficiently comfortable to wear for several hours. Four-inch heels are the typical height for ‘party’ or ‘evening wear’ shoes, although wearing shoes of this height requires some practice beforehand. Footwear designed with heels of four or more inches often feature a platform sole under the forefoot to make walking slightly easier. Shoes with heels of up to eight inches or more are made, but these are not as popular with the general public as the previously-mentioned, shorter varieties.
This article will briefly describe a number of the heel shapes being used on women’s footwear. It must be noted that while these names are commonly used, there may be some variation in terminology around the world.
Chunky heel: As the name suggests, a chunky heel (sometimes called a ‘block’ heel) is fairly substantial. As it provides more support and an improved distribution of weight than a much slimmer heel, it reduces the pressure from the front of the wearer’s foot, and so is normally far more comfortable to wear and easier to walk in. Said to offer a practical heel for everyday wear, the chunky heel includes low, square heels and slightly taller cylindrical designs.
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Comma heel: The comma heel is an eye-catching and fashionable style of slender heel that mimics the shape of the punctuation mark by curving away from or towards the toe.
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Cone heel: Becoming wider towards the bottom of the heel, the cone heel has a thick, rounded base for good ground contact and a narrow tip at the seat. This style of heel is available in various heights. As with the chunky and flare heels, the extra support provided by the cone heel makes footwear to which it is fitted suitable to be worn for quite long periods.
Cuban heel: Varying from short to reasonably high and very solid in appearance, the Cuban heel often features a straight breast, slight taper from top to bottom, minimal curvature on the back and sides, and a fairly large top-piece. It is used on ankle boots, Oxfords, loafers and other closed shoes. A chunkier version – called the ‘thick Cuban’ heel – is commonly fitted to ankle boots, high-leg boots and other substantial types of footwear.
Flare heel: Popular with hippies of the 1970s, the flare heel is a square unit with a reasonably slim seat that becomes wider towards the bottom.
Kitten heel: A kitten heel is typically slender and less than two inches in height. It was first introduced in the 1950s and today is used by designers on many types of shoes and boots. A shoe with a kitten heel is easier to walk in than a higher-heeled style and is more comfortable to wear. The kitten heel is often worn by tall women who still want to wear a heeled shoe.
Louis heel: Named after 18th century French king Louis XIV (the ‘Sun King’) and also known as a ‘French’ or ‘Pompadour’ heel, this is normally a short component which features a pronounced curve at the heel breast. Although most popular in the 1920s, footwear with a form of Louis heel is still available. The ‘Louis flap’ was synonymous with this type of heel, continuing the outsole onto the curved heel breast, although this can also be found on other heel styles.
Spanish heel: Similar to a Cuban heel, this is always high and with a small top-piece.
Spool heel: With some similar traits to the Louis heel, the spool variety narrows in the middle and then widens again at the bottom. This heel type is said to originate from Europe during the early- to mid-18th century, with the name coming from its resemblance to the hourglass shape of a spinning machine’s spool of thread.
Stacked heel: Cuban or chunky in style, the stacked heel is normally made from solid layers of leather, or can be imitated with the use of leather veneer over a plastic core or by a sprayed coating.
Stiletto heel: The stiletto heel – named after a thin dagger – is a very slender heel shape that may or may not include a gentle taper. However, it is worth noting that not all slim high heels merit the description stiletto – it is generally expected to have a very thin heel, sometimes defined as having a diameter at the ground of less than 10mm (slightly less than half an inch). The extremely slender stiletto heels of the late 1950s and early 1960s were, in some instances, no more than 5mm in diameter for most of their length, although they sometimes flared out a little at the top-piece.
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Wedge heel: The chunky wedge heel is a unit which fills from the heel to the toe. It is easier in which to walk and is more comfortable to wear than a shoe with a similar-sized slender heel. Full wedges provide the shoe with an elevated heel, but with a flat waist and no heel breast on the bottom of the shoe. ‘Scoop’ (or ‘scooped’) wedges have a recess on the underside in the waist.
Making extra height easier
Although the ‘platform’ is technically a type of sole rather than a variety of heel, it is worth mentioning because of its significance in allowing higher heels to be worn by some women who would otherwise avoid them because of issues with comfort. This style is particularly identified as having a thick outsole (the ‘platform’) married to heels in a variety of heights and designs – whether of the chunky or stiletto persuasion. Many wearers feel that the design makes this style more comfortable than shoes with a high heel and thin outsole, as the height differential between the back and front of the foot is considerably less.
The sky’s the limit
In addition to highly decorated versions of the heel types described above, there are many very unusual high heels also on the market – often in fantastic shapes and even in the form of words or numbers. Providing that any heel serves its purpose of giving support in a safe manner – and the customer wants to buy it – the designer’s imagination can run riot.
By their very nature, footwear heels play a vital role in contributing to the wearer’s safety – whether they need to provide sufficient strength to resist breakage, adequate slip resistance or other key characteristics. It is therefore apparent that designs, constructions and materials need to be properly tested in order to avoid the possibility of injury and subsequent litigation.
How can we help?
Please contact SATRA’s footwear testing team (firstname.lastname@example.org) for help with the testing of heels.
This article was originally published on page 22 of the February 2020 issue of SATRA Bulletin.