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An Ode to the Platform Shoe

Thanks, Baby Spice.

Photo: Dave Benet/Getty Images

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As a child of the ‘90s, my first real interaction with platform shoes arrived in the same grrrl power pop package as my first real interaction with feminism: The Spice Girls. Largely the demure one of my friend group (this is a cute way of saying “terrified of the world”), I flocked to Baby Spice, the girl group chanteuse I deemed most inoffensive — everybody loves babies, or, at the very least, pretends to love babies.

Baby Spice — my dear, blonde Emma Bunton — rocked platform sneakers with almost every short-skirted ensemble. The others did, too, but not like Emma — they were her calling card. I respected her allegiance to pastel pink, pigtails, and demolishing the patriarchy, but beyond that, I wanted her shoes. I thought they gave her a certain agency that stopped her from being fully infantilized. There was (and remains) a certain danger and sense of maturity in the height of them. For that very reason, I owned a single pair of 1” arched single-strap platform sandals, the only pair my mom would allow. I loved having something so sincerely on-trend at the time, but I also loved the commanding feeling that came along with being slightly off the ground. Back then, I thought it was because I was mirroring Baby Spice and could one day share in her strength. Retrospectively, it was probably something as simple as feeling more authoritative in my additional inch of mass. It’s a peculiar sensation I continue to love — platform shoes have remained a staple in my wardrobe ever since.

When I abandoned all colors in adolescence because I read a poetry book once and My Chemical Romance was in vogue, the platform shoe made yet another appearance: as creepers in Hot Topics across America. These felt especially edgy: Only a certain type of person would invest in creepers, and they became an alternative identity marker —the It item for my mall goth brethren. Those experimenting with emo music and eyeliner would rarely leap directly to the platform shoe; they’d begin their flirtation (let’s be real, their poseur-dom) with skull iconography on T-shirts and wristbands. Creepers were for us, a dedicated few who could name a handful of bands on the Epitaph Records roster but also had parents who wouldn’t allow us to dye our hair an unnatural shade. My creepers allowed me to fit in a space for outsiders. Here, extra height meant inclusivity with the weirdos.

In the modern era, creepers and creeper-inspired shoes can be found on runways, on Rihanna, on teen stars who’ve perhaps never listened to Hawthorne Heights in earnest, and that’s cool, too. There’s real freedom in feeling a little edgy every now and again. I’ve yet to be reacquainted with my first particular platforms, the probably-Steve Madden sandals I first owned, but I’d wager that hip, young people brands are all up on that revivalism — justifiably so.

Now I wear various platform shoes regularly, albeit in a more adult fashion: I’m a big fan of these Dr. Marten platform Chelsea boots, and on warmer days, these ankle strap platform sandals (I pair them with socks, a schoolgirl-chic look I ripped from teens in Harajuku. I aspire to those levels of Tokyo cool.) The attraction to platform shoes seems simple enough: They operate as an alternative to your classic high heel. They’re easier to walk in, they define your calves in a similar way, and perhaps most importantly, they promote the same confidence that comes with being taller. I’m 5’4”, an average height for an American woman, and I’ve never felt insecure about being considered too short. My physical relationship with platforms is a bit more conceptual: The shoes give me a sensation of being a little bit removed from the earth, and for that reason, I feel hyper-aware of my surroundings while wearing them. Being further from the ground makes you consider the ground more. It could operate as a metaphor for egoism or something, but mostly that in wearing platform shoes, you’re making a decision. There’s a balancing act involved.

In 2017, my various platformed footwear sits in the forefront of my closet, obscuring more sensible shoes in the back. They occupy that space even when I opt to wear something more athletic because I find comfort in them: an odd staple, but an expressive and weird one. I don’t see them going anywhere anytime soon.