i keep seeing this

How Did Kitten Heels Become the New Padded Sandal?

Photo: Abigale Masters; Net-a-porter; & Other Stories

My preoccupation with kitten heels began as most of my obsessions do: during an Instagram stalk. I was weeks deep on influencer Matilda Djerf’s page, hunting for a shot of her fluffy hair to take to my hairdresser, when I started to notice how often she was posting kitten-heeled mules. Of course, stylish women have been in an on-again, off-again relationship with the low, curved heels for ages. And fashion editors spent plenty of 2021 insisting we’d turn to them again, emerging from our lockdown caves. But spotting them on the Scandi-style content creator felt different. More specific, somehow.

I was right. Weeks later, inhaling a cream-cheese bagel on Brick Lane while flat hunting, I saw secondhand shoppers of all aesthetics meandering about in the same sorts of slingback and mule kitten heels. I’m talking people channelling Y2K. Eclectic layering. Sleek, simple looks. Abigale Masters, a London-based stylist, deftly combines all of those looks. She told us she loves kitten heels for their versatility, dressed up or down, and ultimately their practicality. “I don’t enjoy walking in high heels. I find them uncomfortable,” she says, as well as mention painful. “They’re risky if you don’t know what type of terrain you’ll be walking on.”

In Manchester, influencer Ellie Robinson — who, like Masters, is less minimalist than Djerf — has also been click-clacking around in kitten heels. “I am about five-seven or slightly taller, and I like the fact kitten heels don’t make me six-foot like normal heels do,” she says, since the heels are generally no higher than five centimetres. “They also look pretty on people’s feet as they’re not so chunky,” adding a vintage flair to an outfit. Masters puts it another way: “The kitten heel for me is the perfect compromise, and I think they also look pretty cute.”

Funnily enough, that balance between cute and comfortable had led to the pointy-toed kitten heel’s drift from popularity since the late aughts. Originally popularised in the 1950s, they peaked in the ’90s and early aughts, seen on runways and styled in everything from Calvin Klein minimalism (Kate Moss, Gwyneth Paltrow) to Princess Diana’s more buttoned-up formal outfits (think a knee-length skirt and closed-toe mule). Now they still have a broad reputation among young women as frumpy, maybe best for knackered wedding guests. A quick scroll through the kitten-heel hashtag on TikTok lays that bare. The most common complaints? That the shoes are pointless, unflattering, and even matronly.

This may be why they’re only just moving from early adopters to an early majority in the current trend cycle. Strappy or pointed-toe kitten heels are at the crux of the style I’ve been seeing, particularly ones that don’t look typically “pretty” and eschew the parallel trends for quilted sandals or padded Bottega knockoffs. That means, for Robinson, she’s found heaps of secondhand bargains on Vinted. In the interest of journalistic integrity, I investigated her claim and can report I snagged a pair of vintage Calvin Klein kitten heels for £14.

But you can find a range of new options, from high street to higher end, too. You could go for a more architectural heel from KNWLS London’s AW22 collection or a sharp, patent mule from & Other Stories. On ASOS, searching “kitten heel” at the time of writing pulls up five pairs of shoes. But “mid-heeled” or “mid-heeled mule” kicks open the door to a range of possibilities. Masters doesn’t mind that the classic kitten heel hasn’t hit mass-trend levels yet, though it’s getting there. In fact, she says she’s been happy to rummage at car boot sales, hunting for her next favourite shoe while people pass them by. And as for me? My preoccupation continues.

Some kitten heels to buy:

Under £50

Under £100

Above £100

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How Did Kitten Heels Become the New Padded Sandal?