Sole survivors

Towering heels and winklepicker uppers have played havoc with female feet for years, but the latest trends in women's shoes signal a more sensible approach to style.

Alexander McQueen's 10-inch crustacean collection for spring 2010 have provided a trumpet blast of a farewell to the extreme and aggressive shoe trend.
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Take a look at your feet. If you are female and possess a modicum of interest in fashion, the chances are that you suffer from any of the following: blisters, bunions, corns, callouses, fallen arches, hammer toes or, more likely, a combination of the above. This is the time of year we resolve to change our lifestyle, outlook and habits for the better. Enough is enough: no longer will we torture our feet in vertigo-inducing heels. This year is all about making fashion resolutions, or more specifically, footwear resolutions.

Happily, the fashion designers are one step ahead. Low heels have been seeping their way onto the catwalks and into our subconscious for a few seasons now, but the mood of change rang loud and clear during the recent spring/summer shows. The surreal show-stopping creations with their stomping brick platforms and spindly knitting needle heels were noticeably played down. In their place was something in which you could actually walk up a flight of stairs without accruing several blisters and a sprained ankle.

There were reworked brogues at Anna Sui, Alberta Ferretti and Michael Kors, flat sandals from Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs that were reminiscent of Japanese geta sandals, clog-like creations at Derek Lam and knee-high sneakers at Jean Paul Gaultier. More importantly, the kitten heel was back: a long-lost friend that, since around 1998, has been missing, presumed permanently returned to the great cobbler in the sky.

In an unforeseen fashion U-turn, Giles Deacon, Missoni, Vivienne Westwood, Marni, Louis Vuitton and Roberto Cavalli were among the names experimenting with the delicate demi-heel for spring/summer. "Certainly spring sees a definite shift from the -aggressive styles," agrees Helen David, -Harrods' womenswear general merchandise manager. "Shoes are going to be more feminine and softer." The last 15 years have seen footwear move through the fashion ranks from afterthought to an outfit's raison d'être. Names such as Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin have got us hooked with numerous covetable It-shoes. In the last five years we have seen the rise of the "attitude heel", barely blinking as designers introduce ever-more-vertiginous designs that contravene the basic requirements of a shoe. There have been platformed heel-less hooves courtesy of Nina Ricci and Antonio Berardi, Margiela's why-use-a-heel-when-you-can-use-a-nail approach, Nicolas Ghesquière's Lego shoes for Balenciaga, not to mention just about every toe-curling John Galliano creation for Dior Couture. Apparently, aware of a change in mood, Alexander McQueen's jewelled 10-inch crustacean collection for spring 2010 provided a trumpet blast of a farewell to the extreme and aggressive shoe trend. Heels have got so high that the only way is down. And about time too, because our love for grandiose stilettos and platforms is causing some serious health problems. As we wear higher heels for longer, experts are increasingly concerned about the long-term damage that we're doing to our feet. According to Ray Margiano, the CEO of the global footcare provider Foot Solutions, women are six times more likely than men to develop permanent damage to their body as a result of inappropriate shoes. "If you're standing in a high heel that's three inches or more, your foot is slamming down the front with a lot of pressure - over a period of time that leads to foot deformities, plus the wearer's weight is shifted, which can lead to knee and back problems," he says. Another side effect is sciatica, a painful condition in which nerves get trapped, triggering pain and numbness in the foot. Then there's shoe size. In recent times female shoe sizes have swelled so that UK sizes 8, 9 and even 10 are not uncommon. Just look to the likes of Kate Winslet and Paris Hilton; their petite frames are supported by more than ample UK size 9 shoes. "The midpoint of the size range has gone up on almost a country by country basis," agrees Margiano. "This impacts the feel and the fit of the shoe." But as we prepare for these lower styles to hit stores, a question lingers, despite the overwhelming evidence that we should: are we really ready to ditch high heels? Just as we managed to convince ourselves that teetering on six-inch heels is a feasible footwear option, news that we should exile them from our wardrobes is hard to accept. Heels have one undeniable quality that makes us return to them again and again: they look good. A heeled shoe (preferably with a concealed platform) has the power to transform its wearer into someone slimmer, taller - even more confident. As tempting as the lower styles might be, it's going to take some serious fashion therapy to shake this addiction. For those who remain unconvinced by the charms of a low heel, look to Giles Deacon's spring/summer footwear (created by -Louboutin no less). The styles are ladylike, but the explosion of coloured metallics, snakeskin and tinted plastic vinyls make them feel fun, not functional. And there's already a waiting list. Deacon has described how the kitten heel was the starting point for a new aesthetic in his clothing collection. He has a point. Those who think being a style trailblazer in 2010 is a simple case of digging out your old ballet pumps will be sorely disappointed. Fashion is never that straightforward (or kind to your wallet). Deacon's collection provides a masterclass in rethinking the way we dress. The lower, feminine heels are matched with classically curvy, 1950s-influenced shapes or body-fitted, knee-length column pieces. David agrees that the new kitten-heel styles have developed in tandem with new clothing trends: "The new aesthetics in ready-to-wear require more variety than just today's killer platform and newer feminine silhouettes require a slimmer heel." But, she points out, although the season marks a new era for the low heels, they aren't the only option: "There is certainly more variety than we have seen over the last few seasons - however, it would be wrong to say that "chunky" has disappeared." She predicts Chanel's huge platform clogs and Prada's Perspex and vinyl chandelier-heeled sandals to be among Harrods' biggest sellers in the spring. "Fashionable high heels are never going away," concedes Margiano. What's more, he adds, there's no harm in wearing them as long as you don't do it every day and night. "What we're seeing is people buying high shoes and going out in them for the occasional lunch or night out and then buying a better-built shoe and wearing that most of the time." Dietitians tell us that the route to shifting weight long-term is not by banishing chocolate and crisps indefinitely, but to indulge in a little now and again as a treat. Why not make the same true of our new-year shoe resolutions. It's not about ditching the stilettos completely, but restricting their use so they aren't the default choice for a trip to the supermarket. And with so many tempting low-heeled options for spring, finding everyday alternatives won't be a hardship. The real challenge is finding the room to store all of these new styles. With that in mind, perhaps the sensible new season's resolution isn't to throw out your high heels, but to buy a bigger shoe closet.