If You're Wearing Heels in a Disaster, Are You at a Disadvantage?

It took me a really long time to wear heels after 9/11 because I was scared. Now I just don't wear them because I'm lazy.

Sep 14, 2012 at 9:00am | Leave a comment

I woke up on the morning of September 11, 2001, slightly hung over. My boyfriend and I had gone to Yankees stadium to watch the Red Sox play the Yankees and we drank beer after beer while we waited to see if the game was going to be rained out. They finally called it a little after 9 p.m., but the damage had been done.

I got out of bed that day around 7:45 a.m., threw on clothes, and ended up wearing a pair of those slip-on platform sandals that everyone (or at least some people) was wearing that year. I entered the F Train station on Houston and 1st Ave at around 8:43 a.m. By the time I exited at 42nd Street, both of the World Trade Center towers had been attacked by terrorist-hijacked planes.

Not knowing what to do or where to go, I stayed in my office on the 26th floor of the Grace Building where I was working as a copywriter for Victoria’s Secret. The CEO told us we were safer there. That we shouldn’t leave. But after I watched out of the floor-to-ceiling windows facing downtown and saw the first and then the second building fall, I knew I had to get out of there. I wasn’t going to be safe anywhere, I realized. But I’d rather be in danger in the comfort of my own home where people wouldn’t stare at me as I sobbed hysterically.

I’ll never forget the walk back to my East Village apartment that morning. The sky was perfectly blue. It was warm out, but not uncomfortably so. I met my roommate on the corner of 42nd and 3rd and we proceeded to solemnly walk home together, not speaking, not even crying anymore, just scared, uncertain, and heavy with the weight of the entire world changing in the course of a few minutes.

We still didn’t have much information, so when we heard the sounds of jets overhead, we screamed and ran for cover. Later, we found out they were fighter jets, but how were we to know?

Eventually we made it to 14th Street, where the National Guard asked for ID in order to prove we had a reason to proceed downtown. We showed it. Soon we were standing outside in our apartment and I remember thinking as I kicked off my shoes and turned on CNN, “I’m so glad I wasn’t wearing heels today.”

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Me and my friend Maura on top of my roof: August, 2001. Ah, youth.

It was months actually before I started wearing heels to work again. It didn’t make sense considering the constant “terrorist attack” drills we were now forced to do at the office, walking down 26 flights of stairs to our designated meeting point in the park. Plus, I was haunted by September 11th and I wanted to be ready when it happened again. I didn’t want to slice my foot open on sharp debris as I ran to escape for my life. I didn’t want to be trampled in the subway as I tried to make my way along a dark rat-covered track, tunnels collapsing all around me. I didn’t want to be waddling along with blisters on my feet when I had to flee the island with nothing but the clothes on my back. Suddenly the ability to run –- quickly and without hindrance -– was of the utmost importance. Cute heels? Not worth it. Not worth it at all.

In the aftermath of the attack, I remember high heels coming up a lot as they did in the recent Reddit conversation that sparked this post where a woman asks if heels might slow you down in a situation where you needed to save your own life. Certainly it was something we all felt was a possibility. I even remember hearing that Vogue provided their employees with stylish matching Pumas to keep under their desks in case of emergency. (Though for the life of me, I can’t find a link to this on the Internet.) 

Eventually, as with most tragedies, the fear subsided. Time and a Klonopin prescription helped me get over the anxiety created by the terrorists and eventually I found my way back into heels. This was Manhattan after all. Things like shoes really mattered.

Now that I’ve settled comfortable into “middle age” (What? That’s what my mother called it when she rang me to wish me a happy birthday -– a day late –- this year.), I don’t wear heels as much as I once did. It’s for many reasons:

I live in San Francisco. Sure, the bar may be three blocks away, but if one of those blocks is a 28 percent grade, I’d rather wear flats than risk sliding on my ass down the hill. (Not always, though, as evidenced by numerous scars on my knees and knuckles. Hot!)

I want to feel safe. I’m not one of those people who always assume the worst is going to happen to them, except that I’m totally one of those people. The elevator is going to plummet. There’s going to be a massive earthquake the second I get into the shower. That guy walking down the street is going to try to punch me in the face and steal my laptop. And though wearing flats wouldn’t prevent any of those situations, there is something about the stability and speed that comes with flats that just makes me feel safer. Who’s the robber going to pick on? The girl teetering in her stilettos or the girl who looks like she’d be able to chase after him? It might not be fair, but I assume the former.

In addition, flats are about a million times more comfortable and as we all know, I'm super lazy. I don’t think I really need to explain this one because, well, duh. And I don’t just mean on my feet, although that’s huge. I mean, just in the fact that when I’m wearing them, I can keep up. I hate hurrying to stay with the group or realizing that I don’t have enough time to make the light because I can’t rush as efficiently. Plus, do you know how much easier it is to jump up and down when your team scores a touchdown in flats? Exacula. (What? Exacula is totally happening.)

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Shoes are kind of gross, huh? Also: this is not all of the flats, but I was making a mess. Lastly, don't worry; I don't wear those Tory Burch flats anymore. I'm not a *complete* savage.

And then, well, there’s this story about a woman who died after she tripped on her high heels and fell down the stairs, something I think about pretty much every time I maneuver down the three flights of stairs in my apartment building.

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High heels or DEATH TRAP?

Of course, as with almost everything, I say, “Do watcha like.” Well, fine, Humpty said it first, but I’ve since adopted it and it’s one of life-long mantras. If you love heels and can rock them comfortably, go for it. I mean, I certainly still bust them out when the occasion calls for it. Like last Saturday night in Green Bay when I paired three-inch heels with ripped jeans and an off-the-shoulder 49ers top. (Classy!)

And come to think of it, those heels were super useful. Because as I told my best friend the next day, “You know, I probably could have stayed out past 1:30 a.m. if I’d been wearing flats.”

Her response? “Sure, but a.) Heels make you look a lot skinnier and b.) They’re the perfect insurance that you won’t get too hung over. Once your feet start hurting? It’s time to get outta there.”

Follow @daisy on Twitter. Sometimes she posts pictures of her middle-aged outfits and she doesn’t mind if you point and laugh.