From Heels to Sneakers: What Shoe Design Says About Women’s Empowerment in the Last 40 Years


FROM HEELS TO SNEAKERS

WHAT SHOE DESIGN SAYS ABOUT WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT IN THE LAST 40 YEARS

The Ice Age period introduced shoe-making that made footwear from animal skin. Thousands of years later, shoes developed from fabrics vis-à-vis class divisions. From class, we move to the search for comfort and casual. As women took on more roles in society and the office, comfortable shoes were in order without giving up on style. Let’s look at the evolution of women’s empowerment through shoes and trends in the last 40 years: the 1980s to 2010s inclusive.

1. 1980s: free from formal

The 1980s began defining women’s rights and evolution into bold fashion.

Sneakers - 1980s women shoes

The 1980s introduced women's rights to move away from wearing high heels all the time. Thanks to Jane Fonda's workout videos, she normalized activewear, like sneakers, as acceptable clothing in women's fashion. Credits: Left - Pay-Ssl999.Xyz; Right - The New York Times.

Thanks to Jane Fonda and her workout videos, she popularized activewear for sports and outings. Big sneakers, spandex pants, and leg warmers were all the rage in the 1980s. Anywhere you went, women had activewear on them. This decade represented a woman's right to go out and be comfortable. This shifted from having to dress formally and uncomfortably all the time. This act made sneakers acceptable footwear for both men and women.

Mules - 1980s women shoes

Mules were favored in the 1980s for comforting the heels without any closings in the back. Just look at how Pat Benatar rocked in them! Credits: Left - GEM; Right - L'Officiel.

Mules and cone heels were also big fads of 1980s footwear. Mules uncovered women’s feet from the back that provided comfort for the heels. It also revealed some flesh as a fashion statement to encourage women to shift from traditional to experimental.

Cone heels - 1980s women shoes

The '80s were all about looking edgy. The decade redesigned the common high heels with cone heels that took a daring turn in women's fashion. Lady Di evolved The Royal Family's conservative fashion with her modern taste, especially in these shoes! Credits: Left -  1stDibs; Right - Harper's Bazaar.

Cone heels showed women in an edgier look. These shoes were on point in the rock 'n roll scene of the decade, moving women away from the common and ordinary heels.

2. 1990s: Boosting Heights

From Britney Spears to Rachel Green, shoes evolved from the casual trend of the ‘80s.

Platform shoes - 1990s women shoes

Britney Spears was highly credited for popularizing the thick platform shoes. They made women feel confident with boosted heights. Credits: Left - Outfit Ideas HQ; Right - Cosmopolitan.

During her “...Baby One More Time” phase, Britney popularized thick platform shoes that added height and confidence to women. Britney, you hit us, baby, one more time with your bold fashion! Bad pun, we know.

Chunky (bulky) heels - 1990s women shoes

In the 1990s, chunky and bulky shoes paved the way for more artistic designs in shoe design and heels. Jennifer Aniston made them a fad as Rachel Green in "Friends". Credits: Left - Shoe-Icons; Right - Pinterest.

When we think about the ‘90s, we can’t possibly leave out Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green from “Friends”. She knew how to be on point in high heels, especially in chunky and bulky shoe designs. The One Where We Stan Rachel Green and Her Fashion Taste. If only that were an actual episode in the series.

3. 2000s: staying comfy

The 2000s were bold and liberating.

Uggs - 2000s women shoes

UGGs were all the rage in the 2000s. They eased women's feet with its heels-free and warming features. Credits: Left - Be Modish; Right - ShopStyle.

After an “Oprah’s Favorite Things” broadcast, UGGs became the ultimate fashion scene for women to wear. You definitely wore a pair of these babies back in high school that kept your feet very warm. The shoe design doesn’t include heels, which provide more comfort for the feet. Above all, they gave women a gender-neutral presence to go out without heels.

If you wanted to rock in heels in the 2000s, you could have done it with comfort and style together.

Kitten shoes - 2000s women shoes

Kitten Shoes came back in the 2000s that allowed women to move quickly and get things done. Former First Lady Michelle Obama was known to have worn them all the time to deal with her duties in a flash. Credits: Left - Kresent!; Right - Pinterest.

The 2000s welcomed the 1960s Kitten Shoes back in the 21st century. The shoes were made for young teenage girls, or “kittens”, who weren’t supposed to wear heels at a young age. With low heels, Kitten Shoes allow women to get around the clock quickly and comfortably. Former First Lady Michelle Obama wore Kitten Shoes to get work done and catch up to her husband. Run, First Lady, run!

Pumps - 2000s women shoes

Thanks to the pumps' thicker outer soles and slim heels, they made women feel sexy. Credits: Left - The Sun; Right - Pinterest.

Pumps were, and still are, one of the shoe trends today. We love how thin the heels have become and how the heels' height and outer soles have added more height. Not only did these changes make women braver but also sexier.

4. 2010s: neutral and bold

In this decade, shoes became more gender-neutral, flashy, and different. They not only completed the outfit but also made a statement.

Sneakers - 2010s women shoes

2010s were all about wanting gender neutrality between men and women. Fashion even introduced unisex clothes, including sneakers. Rihanna is known to walk in sneakers all the time. Credits: Left - Pinterest; Right - Shopee.

Sneakers made a big comeback in the 2010s since the 1980s. They promote gender-neutrality to men and women once again. The shoe design allows women to do physical activities with special-made features.

Sandals - 2010s women shoes

Having shoes exposing the feet made a bold statement in presenting women's fashion as less conservative and bolder. Credits: Left - Arcate; Right - Fashion Jackson.

The 2010s made feet even more exposed. Most shoes have designs on them and lack closed surfaces, displaying women’s feet out in the open. This made women’s shoes less conservative and bolder. Now that’s what we call showing the inner beauty out!

Avant-garde shoes - 2010s women shoes

Avant-garde shoes in the 2010s represented the shoe owner's personality and her love for experimenting with fashion. Credits: Right - AllDayChic.

Not only did shoes become more open in that decade but also a whole lot bolder. Shoes with interesting designs, heels, and models showed individuality among each woman. Such avant-garde shoes defined the owner, her personality, and what she loved in fashion. It’s pretty cool to let your shoes speak about you on your behalf!

So let’s review the evolution of shoe design. It adapted to women’s needs throughout history while keeping some sense of style simultaneously.  In the 1980s, sneakers, mules, and cone heels broke women free from formal wear. The 1990s were all about boosting height to build confidence. At the turn of the new millennium, women wanted to move around freely, so heel-free shoes were en vogue. And lastly, women became experimental and assertive with gender-neutral sneakers, exposing footwear, and avant-garde shoes in the 2010s.

For more women’s fashion tips, click here.

ELIO MOUHANNA

Elio is a content creator at Sikasok. He enjoys writing, reading, binge-watching, and jogging. Elio loves being creative and staying updated with the latest news and trends. 



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