A piece last week in Refinery29 got me thinking about footwear, specifically my choices in this department. The article points to the notion that "we're living in the age of the fashion flat" and how women are increasingly putting aside their heels for something easier like combat boots, flats, or sneakers. There's a number of factors contributing to this trend - an increased focus on comfort (something heels inevitably fail to deliver) and the general casualization of work wardrobes.
A cursory look in my closet shows this to ring true with sneakers, sandals, and flats on heaviest rotation. But when I read about these trends, I like to dig into the data behind it. Does what we see online line up with the anecdotes? Let's check it out.
First, we'll examine the entire women's shoe selection - to understand which categories have the most products - and where we've seen the most changes since one year ago.
What does this delightfully unsexy table tell us? It tells us a number of different stories. To start, there are seven retailers in this sample, all of which stock multiple brands and who have sizable shoe assortments. Within that sample, if you look at the yellow highlighted row, that's the percentage of shoe assortments that are heel styles. Five out of seven of these retailers have seen the proportion of heels go down from the same time last year. Bloomingdales and Zappos are the two that counter that trend - Zappos only slightly so.
So if there's fewer heels, you may be wondering, what's there more of? If you next look at the blue highlighted row in the table, this is proportion of sneakers in the shoe assortment. What's notable here is that only three of the seven retailers saw the proportion of sneakers increase from last year. This is interesting because one hypothesis is that some of the decrease in heels may be offset by an increase in sneakers. But looking at this data, that doesn't completely ring true.
You might also be thinking, flats don't represent a very significant part of assortments, nor has this changed much over the past year. So what gives?
Another way to understand what's happening here is to look at new products introduced throughout the past year. We've broken this down by category, and here we see that there's indeed been an overall decrease in sneakers and heels introduced over the past twelve months. In addition, while you see the expected seasonal peaks in introductions in sandals and boots, at present, the number of sandals being introduced is significantly higher than the same time last year. We believe what's driving this is more "in-the-moment" trends being introduced, trends that readily transition into the fall months.
What other data points might tell us heels are downtrending? Good question! Here we can bring in data that sorts out heel heights, data which is powered by some super cool machine learning technology. Since there are so many boot and sandal styles right now, let's check out what the most common heel heights are.
What you see is that for sandals - over 50% have a heel height of one inch or less. For boots, nearly 40% are considered flat, with another 45% stepping in at 1-3 inches of heel height. This data tells us that the heel, at least in the steep traditional sense of it, has fallen out of favor - for the moment at least.
As Susannah Davda, a shoe consultant, points out, "When high heels come back on trend, which I’m sure they will, we’ll have higher expectations of how we should feel in them. The future of women’s footwear is comfortable." We second that sentiment!