Fashionable and Functional: Platforms return to the stomping ground.

platforms

By Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse

Heels. Love them, hate them, envy those who can walk in them. For most they’re not everyday wear, but the much welcomed comeback of parties is demanding a more dressed-up vision for footwear.

This time last year we were all living in our slippers and summer brought with it the comfort of crocs. But at New Year, and going into 2022, an alternative is gracing fashionable feet. If you’ve been on the internet at all in the previous weeks, or caught a glimpse of any 2021/22 collections, you probably noticed that the platform, that disco classic, is back.

There’s a retro allure to platforms. The retro asthetic has been captivating the fashion scene post lockdown, most likely in the hopes to channel memories, made up or lived, from a time pandemic free. From curtain bangs to roller-skating, Fleetwood Mac to psychedelic florals, it seems like nearly everyone is utterly obsessed with the seventies right now. You can’t talk about the seventies without talking about the disco scene, and you can’t talk about the disco scene without talking about platform shoes.

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But platform shoes predate the disco era by a long shot. The origin of platform shoes actually dates back to around 600 BCE with the Greeks being one of the first civilisations to wear them. Statues of scantily clad Greek women adorn versions of the gravity defying footwear, looking incredibly sultry as they do so. At this time, platforms were used to create an illusion of importance. The taller you appeared, the more you looked down upon everyone else, the higher social standing you seemed to acquire. 

Vertiginous chopine, which could measure up to a metre high, were a status symbol for socialites in 15th-century Venice, much as they were for Greek women. These platforms soon went from luxury to necessity, but this doesn’t mean they were any less extravagant. In the following century, Venetian women often wore platform shoes to prevent their dresses from touching the wet, muddy ground, with the shoe providing as much as 20 inches of extra height.

Throughout history, the platform’s sex appeal has been well-established with the design being favoured by high-class prostitutes across the globe. In Europe, they were worn by courtesans, providing an extravagant allure for attracting customers. In Japan, wooden koma geta were worn by prostitutes from the 17th century onwards. There was no practical reason to don the hard to walk in shoes, just the fact that they looked sexy – it’s the exact same mindset we all have towards the shoes now.

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Platforms took off in high fashion in the 30s – with designers like Salvatore Ferragamo and Roger Vivier making the shoes. In 1938, Ferragamo made ‘The Rainbow’ sandal for Judy Garland. Though they may not be the most famous shoes ever worn by Garland, these were by far cooler than the sparkly red heels that took Dorothy home. Layers of cork gave ‘The Rainbow’ sandal its signature height, and multicoloured suede layered over the cork gave it its name. It was unlike anything else seen in the 1930s. A modern version of The Rainbow is available to buy – if you have £1,465 to spare. 

After platforms somewhat died out with fifties and sixties conservatives favouring more practical styles and rock and rollers and hippies turning, well to more practical styles, platforms returned with a vengeance in the seventies. The shoes were genderless, worn by the likes of Sister Sledge, Bianca Jagger, David Bowie, Elton John, and Mick Jagger. The height and drama platforms offered made a statement in a new era or excess, fun, and drama. Particularly when decorated with glitter, bright colours or loud patterns, platforms were quintessential seventies, very much in keeping with the OTT aesthetic of the decade.  

The trend re-emerged in the nineties with the reimagining of punk-inspired fashion. Naomi Campbell left her mark on the 1993 Fall/Winter season after famously falling on the runway in Vivienne Westwood’s 21cm snakeskin platform boots. Towering shoes, so high they make your ankles quiver just thinking about them, weren’t only associated with high fashion. When Spice World broke the box office, the girl group’s platform sneakers, designed by Buffalo, brought a more casual take of the style to the masses and every fan of the band would’ve given anything to own a pair. 

The noughties and 2010’s saw the platform come in and out of style; cork wedge sandals, space boots, and who can forget Jeffrey Campbell’s ‘Lita’ boot that took Tumblr hipsters by storm?

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Platforms have been a staple in fashion’s lexicon for hundreds of years but have changed rapidly and often to work with the fashion of the time. It’s much like the Little Black Dress, which has retained its colour but changed its silhouette over the decades – the platform shoe is similarly chameleonic. 

The design of platform shoes is vastly more comfortable than its streamline predecessor the stiletto. You have a miraculous couple of inches of pure, protective bliss. While a 12 cm heel is always a 12 cm heel, if the shoe in question has a 3 cm platform, the angle your feet will be put under, and the stress your legs and back will be exposed to, won’t be as great. What looks like a breathtaking 12cm heel on the outside, feels like a comfy (as comfy as can be) 9cm heel on the inside – that’s one clever optical illusion. 

The thick sole gives the shoe more stability. While practical, this also means platforms have more of a pleasing stomp when compared with other more traditional high heels. Platforms have a bucket load of attitude, giving a more gritty, punked up take on the high heel. Who doesn’t like a good stomp?

Whether your aesthetic skews classic, minimalist, sporty, feminine, or ebbs and flows depending on your mood, there’s a platform shoe that can totally work for you. More modern interpretations of the platform include new takes on preppy styles; the loafer, brouges, and tennis shoe to name a few. 

It’s not all sky high. We have entry-level, everyday wear platforms too. Platform sneakers, such as those from the legendary Buffalo brand, gained traction towards the end of the 2010s as people – thankfully – moved away from ballet flats. The comfort offered by platform trainers, paired with their stand-out silhouettes, patterns and colours, have been adapted by seemingly everyone. Potent examples being Converse and Vans, but also takes on more classically sporty shoes like Puma and even Adidas who offer a triple platform on some styles. While not great for actually playing any type of sport – maybe curling? – platform sneakers’ thick rubber sole provides great arch support, shock absorption and comfort for your feet. 

Brands like Dr Martens, Uggs and even Crocs have taken to the trend and to great success. The Naked Wolfe platform boots have also been a massive hit on TikTok as we watch people lube up their calves to squeeze them on. 

As popular as the high street takes on platform shoes are, high fashion versions have overtaken the trend, for now at least. AW 2021/22 catwalks were full to the brim with ankle shattering shoes. Taking home the prize for most trending design is undoubtedly Versace, with Simone Rocha, Giambattista Valli, Molly Goddard, and Prada following closely behind. 

The Versace Medusa Aevitas Platform Pumps are quite literally to die for, no matter what styles you usually follow, your opinion on Versace or high fashion is general. The pumps have been spotted on celebrities like Ariana Grande, Beyonce and Dua Lipa, all of whom followed the monochrome outfit look that dominated the Versace runway show. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, they are continuously sold out and also cost about three months rent for the average person in the UK. 

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Platforms, whether they are bejeweled sandals or perspex boots, are the perfect shoes for a dancefloor, or any floor for that matter. For sure, the extra couple inches of height they give you looks badass, but the soaring confidence offered is really what counts. When in platforms, you carry yourself differently. The stomp you make when your foot hits the floor gives a sense of power, confidence, sensuality – when you’ve mastered walking in them that is. 

Platforms have transcended trend and earned their rightful place in the annals of fashion. They’re an ancient shoe that no one realises is ancient thanks to the timeless design’s endless re-imaginings. The shoes, despite the danger even Naomi Campbell couldn’t avoid, have forever been valued as both fashionable and functional, and we can’t see them going anywhere, anytime soon. 

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