09/01/2010 10:40 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Kitten Heels? Meow!

When I saw that the September issue of Harper's Bazaar contains an article on "The Return to Kitten Heels," I was ready to purr. I routinely recommend kitten heels as the perfect compromise for women who want to look elegant and sexy without the pain of four-inch dominatrix stilettos. Traditionally, a "kitten heel" refers to a shoe with a 1.5-2-inch slender heel with a slight curve, somewhat resembling a comma. The heel is set in from the edge of the shoe.

But inexplicably, fashion writer Anamaria Wilson wrinkles her nose at kitten heels, lamenting that "the primly proportioned number is everywhere for fall." Wilson proudly tells us that she exclusively wears "towering platform heels" and that kittens make her look "like a banker or a hostess or a secretary. In other words: boring. And sad." When test-driving a pair of 2.3-inch slingbacks, she felt "dowdy, like a '50s frump." Switching to a 2.7-inch pair of pointy-toe slingbacks didn't help because they made Wilson feel "twee and bored." She "craved the zing of a shoe that makes people use the word sick in the most positive of connotations."

Reader, shoes with 2.7-inch heels are not kitten heels. They are not even mid-height. Repeat after me: They are high heels. Wilson is right to use the word "sick." High heels, worn on a regular basis over a number of years, cause foot deformities that not only hurt but also are hideous. Bunions and hammertoes are most definitely "sick"... and not in a good way.

In fact, in a photograph accompanying her article, Wilson is wearing red Stella McCartney stilettos with such a minimal toe box that the joints of her big toes are literally spilling out of the shoes and resting on the ground. That has got to hurt, and these are shoes that Wilson rejects for being boring. How badly does a shoe have to fit to be pronounced edgy?

Wilson is not even discussing kitten heels in the traditional sense. Rather, her complaint is against classic stiletto slingbacks and pumps. Her article is a perfect case study of how people working in fashion have lost all perspective about heel heights. How else can one explain the fall trend of work boots with 4-inch stiletto heels?

As a corrective, allow me to offer the low-down on high heels:

  • A heel that is 1-inch or lower is low heeled. A heel that between 1-2 inches is mid-height. A heel that is 2 inches and higher classifies as high. A heel that is 4 inches or higher is demented.
  • But sometimes demented is the look you're going for. If you must wear 4-inch heels, save them for special occasions, and even then you should wear them for only several hours. Stratospherically high heels are not for everyday wear.
  • You don't need to go higher than 2 inches to achieve a flattering, leggy look.
  • The higher the heel, the more pressure is placed on the forefoot, the higher the likelihood of developing a bunion, hammertoe, neuroma, corn, or callus.
  • If you must wear heels during the day, bring a backup pair in a lower height and alternate your shoes whenever possible. If you wear heels every day without a break, you run the risk of shortening your Achilles tendons.

Wilson complains that slingbacks with a 2.3-inch heel "added 10 years to my life." On this point, she is absolutely correct. If she wears these shoes every day, all day, her feet will become so deformed she will have no choice but to wear supportive shoes with no zing at all.

Ladies, do not trust fashionistas when it comes to footwear. Clearly, they do not have their feet on the ground.

For more shoe-sense, pick up Tanenbaum's Bad Shoes & The Women Who Love Them.