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Flat shoes are back in fashion – but now they’re more complicated

Flat shoes are now in fashion – hurrah! This is a good thing, right?

India, by Twitter

Yes and no, India, yes and no. On the one foot, I’m hopping up and down and cheering, “Free at last! Free at last! No more high heels, we’re free at last!” (Little known fact: Martin Luther King’s speech at the march on Washington was in fact a protest against Christian Louboutin. The reason this fact is little known is because it is a “fact” as opposed to a fact.) On the other foot, though, I am limping with dread at how the fashion industry is going to bugger up even the most holy of holies, the sweetest of sweet, the flat shoe, in order to make it acceptably Fashion.

If you don’t think anyone can destroy the pleasure of the flat shoe, think back, if you will, to the late 1990s during the rise of denim. Suddenly jeans were fashionable – remember that? That was exciting. Or, it was, until the fashionability stepped in and insisted that the only properly fashionable jeans were ones that strangled your legs and bum in a manner that rather undermined the first part of jeans’ original appeal (comfortable sexlessness) and cost over £200, thus undermining jeans’ secondary appeal (like the parakeet said, cheap cheap cheap.) Inevitably, this being the fashion world, things have now come full circle and now style magazines insist that the coolest jeans are the cheap and shapeless jeans, a claim that feels especially cruel after the public was indoctrinated for over a decade with the lesson that only tight jeans that cost as much as a week’s rent were acceptable. Oh, fashion.

So, flat shoes are now in fashion – but not the flat shoes you have. What would be the point of promoting something you already own? Then you wouldn’t have to go out and buy new ones, you silly sausage. Because if you really don’t understand that the ultimate point of fashion trends is to make people go out and buy new shizzle, then, truly, my years of labour have been for naught. Anyway, this means that ballet flats and gladiator sandals are gone, baby, gone. Now, some of you might be saying: “Thank heavens, gladiator flats were always ridiculous and left stupid rash marks all up my calf. But ballet flats? Come on! They’re just a classic, one that goes beyond fashion!” And you people would be right. But nobody likes a wiseacre on the front row of the fashion world so sit your bottom down. Brogues are still acceptable, though their time is certainly almost up, and those annoying slipper-style shoes, which made everyone look to me like Alistair Cookie from Sesame Street seem to be clinging on. But these ones are really in the mainstream of flat-shoe fashion.

Instead, for something more cutting edge, you need pool slides. Yes, pool slides – but obviously not the mildewed plastic ones you already own, but posh ones from Céline, eurotrashy ones from Gucci, monocrome ones from Nike or metallic ones from Zara. Never mind that they slip off your feet at the slightest provocation, or that they slap the backs of your heels in a manner that is both annoying and noisy – pool sliders are what all the trendy fashion stylists and museum curators are wearing, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your perspective.

Next, trainers. No, not the trainers that you’ve been bludgeoned into buying in the past year in the name of fashionability, the trainers with hidden inside wedges by Isabel Marant or one of her copyists, but flat ones. The harder to get the better; so either some snazzy limited-edition Nike ones or the ones that were in the Chanel haute couture show in January, which you can only get if you buy a haute couture dress (starting price: your house).

If you must get ballet pumps, make sure they are covered with spikes. Two years ago, it transpired that Asma al-Assad is fond of Christian Louboutin stilettos tipped with tiny and terrifying spikes. But rather than this quashing the trend, it seems to have sparked it, and so the only acceptable ballet shoes this season are covered in spikes, the message being, apparently, “Yes, I am in my girlish ballet slippers but I can still kick those pro-rebel protesters around so don’t mess.” Fashion is all about the message, you know.

And finally, the wonky-ugly flat shoes. Wonky-ugly is one of fashion’s very favourite looks for the precise reason that it looks wrong to 99% of the human race. Thus, to appreciate wonky-ugly proves that you have a rarefied fashion eye. Entire fashion empires are built upon the wonky-ugly aesthetic: Prada and Marni are the most obvious examples of wonky-ugly fashion. Examples of wonky-ugly flat shoes, however, exemplify when this look can go wrong: lovely Hasbeen and Saltwater sandals are great; Birkenstocks, however, will always look like something that belongs on the feet of German nudists, while DM boots bring back too many Proustian memories for me of Saturday afternoons in Kensington Market and bootleg albums by the Cure for them ever to be worn again.

Fashion trends generated by the fashion industry exist to make life complicated. Life simplifiers such as ballet slippers deftly slip in occasionally because they don’t come from the fashion industry – in the case of the ballet slippers, they came from Kate Moss. Now that the fashion industry has realised that women are fed up with being told they need to wear five-inch heels to look stylish, they’ve proffered flat shoes, but complicated ones. They’ve even managed to complicate pool sliders, for heaven’s sake! So my hot tip is this: revel in the flat-shoe trend, but only – for the love of Mary – buy flat shoes you actually like. And that means, for me, buying another pair of spike-free leopard-print ballet slippers from French Sole. That’s me, the rebel in the ballet slippers.

Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email ask.hadley@theguardian.com

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