Fashionistas come to heel

This year's super-heel is for all, but men have the best of it

This is shaping up to be the summer of the super-heel, a trend that, for once, covers both men's and women's fashion, though in different thicknesses: spindly for the girls, stacked for the boys. Furthermore, for women, a heel is now not worthy of the name unless it is almost seven inches high. Of course, it is extremely unusual for a heel to be that high without it also having a platform sole - unless you're talking fetish wear - so it's slightly misleading. However, five and a half or six inches and a flat sole is not impossible. The not particularly outré label Bally has a sandal, the Coralline, which sports a five-and-a-half-inch, spun-sugar-thin heel.

Gwyneth Paltrow was recently lauded for looking gorgeous and wearing super-heels at a film premiere, but was then spotted getting help walking down the stairs. She defended herself by saying it wasn't because she couldn't negotiate stairs that she needed to lean on her bodyguard, but because she had a knee injury and that she is a "very capable heel walker", thereby showing that beauty is no bar to mastery of grammar.

For men, wearing built-up shoes is finally starting to become acceptable after the short French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, was spotted wearing them. However, Sarkozy is not "cool" enough to make wearing stacked heels fashionable all by himself. The fact that he has a sexy wife helps, the sub-text being that a man sporting two-inch-high heels can still attract a supermodel.

The fabulously shaggable pop singer Prince (he really is almost preternaturally sexy) failed to make heels on men OK, but that was because he was regarded as too other-worldly. Who could identify with him? Sarkozy, however, is a pretty average-looking guy.

All of this clears the way for a revival of Cuban-heeled Mister shoes and boots. These men's shoes became fabulously fashionable in 1989, after Elle magazine used them (on a woman) over an entire fashion spread. At the time, I used to do the PR for a shoe company that sold them and it could barely keep up with demand. The finish on them was plain leather or patent but - totally gloriously - sometimes there were styles using faux snakeskin and various other adornments. For anyone who lives in London and knows a particular gentlemen's outfitters that straddles Wigmore and Duke Streets . . . you'll know just the sort of thing I mean.

Women aren't so lucky. Cuban heels aren't in fashion for us. We're supposed to be stuffing our feet into shoes with these super-high, thin heels - beautiful to look at, but most women will really struggle to move in them. I'm really not sure what I think of this fashion. Of course women should wear what they want, and I totally see the attraction of wearing heels, but to such vertiginous levels? It all seems a bit competitive. Men have so got the better deal this summer.

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.
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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.