Popular style for summer shoes goes flat
The season's shoes have come down off their stilettos.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Stylish women aren't kicking up their heels this summer -- because, as every fashionista knows, flats are back in vogue.
Heels, like "Sex and the City" stilettos, are so last-season. Like the hit TV show, the allure of high heels does linger -- but at the same time, there's no denying the popularity of the fresh, new look of flats.
Shoe design tends to follow in the footsteps of fashion. Flats are popular again because full skirts and capri pants -- styles that look good with flats -- are two of summer's hottest trends, says Willow Shambeck, co-owner of Shou'Ture, a shoe boutique in Winter Park, Fla.
Among the best sellers in her store are pastel, suede flats by Delman, a style originally designed for Audrey Hepburn in the 1950s. "We will be ordering a lot more because that's what customers are asking for," she says.
Everyone from teenagers to businesswomen is stepping out in the new down-to-earth styles, Shambeck says.
The new flats, along with almost-flat, kitten-heel shoes, are sexier and dressier than in seasons past, which adds to their popularity. The vamp, which covers the top of the foot, is often cut so low it reveals a little toe cleavage. And the toes are either elegantly pointed, or funkily rounded.
Colors are vibrant. Embellishments, such as buckles and bows, are bold. And materials range from exotic skins and "jelly" plastics to fabrics printed with polka-dots.
And flats are comfortable, to boot.
Not for every occasion
Flats are not for every woman, even when they offer the sought-after combination of style and comfort.
"I did buy a pair of flats in Seattle about a month ago," says Carolyn Fennell, director of public affairs at Orlando International Airport. "I thought I should get into a lower heel for the amount of walking I do through airports.
"But," she adds, "I haven't worn them yet."
She prefers to wear high heels because she thinks they look more professional. "And besides, I'm 'vertically challenged.' Heels make me look taller."
But for Donna Dowless, who heads up Ticketmaster's operation in the Southeast, "My shoes of choice have always been flats, because I've lived my life on my feet -- in stadiums and running through airports."
"Now flats are a fashion alternative," she says. "I was always ahead of the curve."
Flats are fine with casual clothes, says Lisa Maile, an image consultant in Winter Park. "But not with a power suit."
When going toe-to-toe with men in the business world, a woman should wear shoes that enhance her stature, she says: "Heels make you look taller, and taller looks more powerful.
"Most men feel they can steamroller over women wearing flats, because little girls wear flats," she says, "and little girls don't have power."
The practicality of low heels and flats is hard to ignore, however.
"I often wear flats because I'm always racing around somewhere, and the faster I can keep going the happier I am," says Nancy Schwalb, a public relations consultant in Orlando.
Sandra Jeter, an Orlando real estate agent, has new flats. "I wear them when I'm out in the field showing property. They're very comfortable."
But she would not wear the flats when meeting a client for the first time, or to a board meeting or closing. "Definitely not. Those are high-heel occasions," she says.
Trend analysts predict the high demand for flats will continue into the fall.
Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at NPD Group, told the Wall Street Journal he expects a 15 percent to 20 percent jump in the sale of women's flat shoes for the summer season, which began in March. That would reverse a 22 percent decline in sales of women's flats for the year that ended in February.
Sales of women's footwear overall rose 5 percent last year to $19.9 billion, fueled by brisk sales of high heels, Cohen said.
Kelli Seid, a women's shoe buyer for Famous Footwear stores, anticipates a huge demand for dressy flats in the fall -- by which time even women who don't usually wear flats will be getting used to the look and willing to give it a try.
Rounded, ballerina toes "will be important, as will pointed toes," she says. "But the big trend in flats is detail. Our flats will feature bows and buckle details, with lots of color."
Affordably priced flats will be found in lines such as Naturalizer, Sam & amp; Libby and Something Else by Skechers, she says.
Georgiana Ungaro, spokeswoman for Neiman Marcus in Orlando, says shoppers are buying flats, "but not trading away their high heels. They're buying both."
That suits Leslie O'Neal-Coble, an Orlando lawyer. "I'm short, so I've always worn heels, but flats are making their way into my wardrobe. It's nice to have options," she says. "Heels can ruin your feet and take a toll on your back as you get older."
But even flats don't work when O'Neal-Coble, a construction lawyer, is inspecting a job site.
"For that," she says, "I wear steel-toe boots."