The height of fashion

It's hard to walk in wedge heels - even harder to resist them.

There are certain things that women love but men hate, or vice versa. (I realise this is a gen eralisation and that there will be exceptions, but without generalisation there would be very little journalism.) One of these things is wedge-heeled shoes.

All of my girlfriends who wear wedges drool over them, especially if the sole is made of cork or rope. I can understand this because wedges - in particular - bring out something of the little girl and dressing up, in a way that other heeled shoes don't. This is especially true if the shoes are wedged platforms (rather than just having a flat front sole like, say, a stiletto does), as it means you can wear shoes that are really ridiculously high, since the sole is also elevated.

Wedges are big news this summer: almost every designer showed them, from Givenchy's slightly bondage take - all white straps and buckles - to Fendi's hybrid version of a wedge with a little kitten heel on the bottom. Prada, not for the first time, had one of the best offerings of them all: sedate autumn colours (Miuccia Prada is not one for wishy-washy, even in the spring collections) and some of the lowest shown. Despite being Italian, the woman behind Prada has never needed to shout, except perhaps with her father, who used to berate her in her teenage years for going out wearing skirts that were a little too short.

Being a girl, I do like a wedge. But my problem is that I cannot walk in them, even though every wedge-wearing woman and her dog tells me that wedges "aren't like wearing high heels - they're sooo comfortable". Wedges have a fault, in that the entire surface area of the sole is often fairly small and it's easy to "go over" on them. Of course, I also contribute to the equation in that I never spent years learning to walk in high heels, as some girls did. As a teenager, I always wore polacchini, or desert boots, as they're known in this country. As a result I have wonderful feet (not that many people get to see them these days), but I am unable to walk in anything above one cent imetre in height for very long. This does not stop me having an enormous collection of high heels which I wear for parties. I change at the door.

My erstwhile neigh bour Lucy used to speed-walk to work in Manhattan in spike-heeled shoes. She recently came to see me, having walked two miles in heels, carrying her three-year-old child for much of the way. I must teach her to shout: "Taxi!"

For those wanting to get into the wedge vibe this summer, I hate to say this (it's already had so much publicity) but Topshop does some of the best around, for the price. The rope wedges, at £60, are hard to beat. Marks & Spencer promised me patent wedge pumps in its promotional literature last year, but I've yet to see them in store.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 25 June 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Israel, Gaza and a summer of war?

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.