The streets of Durham are full of historical charm, from the gorgeous old townhouses along the Bailey to its rather more cumbersome cobbled walkway. For many people, myself included, it was the beauty of Durham City which first drew me to the university, and I cannot say for one moment that I have not loved the time I have spent here so far. However, for the more style-conscious girl (or boy) it is impossible to notice that Durham’s roads and pathways were not designed for anything other than sensible footwear.
This poses a particular problem in the evenings, as we ladies decide what to wear on a night out. Clearly, there are no issues with dressing down a little for the likes of Klute, but it is a shame not to wear heels at least every now and then just for the sake of the cobbles. Heels make a girl feel more feminine, more confident, prouder of her beautiful bum and miraculously longer legs. I, for one, have five-inch-high beauties screaming from the bottom of my wardrobe to be worn more regularly, but do not feel that I can, because it is too much of a challenge to wobble along the cobbles, and face the pain in my tired little toes before I even reach the clubs.
This point was recently proven when a group of us decided we could not go to the Fresher’s Ball without finishing our outfits with a pair of heels. We were not alone in this decision: most girls opted for the same potentially pain-filled evening, all in the name of fashion. However, we did not account for the long walk through Durham City centre to the coaches at the Sands car-park… Over cobbles, patchy road surfaces and uneven paving. We made it through the amazing, yet agonising, hours of the ball, saving the last of our energy and determination for the march back to the Bailey from our drop-off point at Student Union. I am not suggesting that we did not have a brilliant night out, but it certainly made me question whether high heels should come with a warning label, “Do not wear in Durham”.
However, women have been wearing certain similar shoes since as long ago as 3500 BC, a date from which there can been seen murals depicting upper-class Egyptian men and women wearing a form of heels for ceremonial purposes. The first form of platform shoes was seen in the 1400s: Turkish “chopines” could be up to thirty inches high, requiring women to walk with canes or servants for balance. Some suggested that they were invented by men to be purposefully restrictive, and perhaps, we should be thankful that something so extravagant did not remain in fashion! It’s a good thing that trends come and go, no? Having fallen out of favour for a while, high heels made a comeback in the 1860s, with women comfortably wearing five or six inch heels (and that is without a platform like we have today), and have been ever-present since.
So perhaps, it is twenty-first century laziness which makes our heel-wearing hours so uncomfortable, as some would argue that we have nothing to complain about compared to our ancestors. After all, cobbled streets were not an uncommon surface for women (and men) to negotiate in high heels for centuries. Nevertheless, the reality of 2012 is that we are spending much longer time standing, walking and even dancing on five-inch platforms, so maybe we are just overly ambitious. Yet, the argument remains whether beauty indeed is pain, or whether we can feel truly fashionable and feminine enough without the aid of high heels. I believe it is a woman’s prerogative to wear what she wants, when she wants. History has proven to me that if we truly wish to adorn our feet in beautiful shoes, we can cope no matter how impractical they are.
Photograph: Yasam Stil