It’s the purr-fect time to slip into statement shoes. All puns aside, the most loved and loathed shoe of modern fashion history is back. The kitten heel. Some adore the short stiletto style for its Audrey Hepburn look and delicate femininity. Others simply hate kitten heels with a burning passion. But the resilient little heel keeps coming around on the fashion conveyor belt, with die-hard kitten heel fans eagerly awaiting their return.
The early 2000’s saw kitten heels a-plenty on teen queens like Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan, and your mum probably wore them to her school ball in the 1980’s along with enough tulle to make a tent for a small family camping trip. While many regard the style as strictly old-lady territory, nothing could be further from the truth - the style was originally developed for teenage girls who were learning to walk in heels.
The style continued to be popular in the 1960’s even as stilettos fell out of style and wedges grew in popularity. Many current designers are increasingly turning their attention to unpopular silhouettes and hard-to-wear shapes, in a post-normcore exploration of ugliness. Kitten heels (and their status as an item of controversy) have gained traction due to their high-fashion aesthetic and relative accessibility for consumers (and let’s not forget that they are the most comfortable member of the stiletto family). The style is back with a vengeance for Spring/Summer 2017-2018 and will be most popular with high fashion consumers as well as adventurous fast fashion consumers.
For high-end consumers, the trend is a statement and designers will have room to create wild, innovative styles. Think pom-poms, buckles and ruffles. Prints and bright colours are also important. These consumers are not necessarily looking for a shoe investment which will last years; they only want to make a seasonal statement. It’s frivolous and fun, here for a good time - not a long time, so buyers and designers have a little room to play. Sandals, mules, slingbacks and pumps are popular styles for adventurous consumers.
Mules tend to err on the side of minimalism in regards to design, relegated to making a statement through bold, block colours (fuchsia, purple and red are popular choices), Mi Piaci’s Estrella heels in hot pink epitomise the punchy coloured mule. Sandals, pumps and slingbacks tend to be more embellished - think of Miu Miu’s pearl embellished kitten heels or the ostrich feathers seen at Prada.
Despite the short shelf-life (one season only!), kitten heels are popular at high prices, so designer and buyers should not skimp on quality or design. Heel style is also more experimental in this category; with super skinny heels or thicker, tapered heels. A more experimental heel style is similar to Dior’s ribbon slingback style, with its backwards sloping heel which almost looks broken.
The Audrey Hepburn look is also having a resurgence, with black pumps in more traditional shapes on-trend. This style has more long-term staying power than its more outrageous counterparts and may become a permanent feature of consumer’s wardrobes. As such, quality and comfort is of increased importance, especially for higher prices. Consumers looking for a black kitten heel are likely more cautious, and also more concerned with cost-per-wear. While they will not mind a higher price, they expect to get a few seasons of wear out of the shoe.
Most pumps, slingbacks and mules in black have suede uppers for the coming seasons. Sandals are not as popular in black, as the summery sandal style better lends itself to the outrageous statement heel category. Classic black kitten heels vary from mid to high prices and are generally more 1950’s inspired, with a classic heel shape. Conversely, the new season minimalist aesthetic is also applicable in this category, with designs subtly changing classic lines of the shoe, as well as the heel shape, to create a more experimental, high-fashion look.
For fast-fashion or lower-priced consumers, it is better to treat the trend, again, as a one season wonder. There is noticeably less variation in the trend at this end of the price spectrum. The styles popular are mainly pump or slingback styles - mules continue in popularity but don’t really fall within the kitten heel trend. The fast-fashion palette is mainly limited to fuchsia, red, leopard print, and silver. Metallics play an important role, although mainly at the lower-priced end of the spectrum.
A kitten heel shoe or boot in silver will be popular with a variety of consumers, although gold is also popular. The price point for kitten heels is relatively high compared to other shoe styles in the low-priced area. They all fall under the $100 mark, but not by much, even in fast-fashion retail. Leather or a leather substitute is the most popular upper materials, although in leopard print a calf hair upper is also trending. Heel style is not overly adventurous in this category, typically a traditional tapered stiletto.
While there is a possibility that statement kitten heels trickle down to fast-fashion consumers for summer, the profit margin in the shoe would be negligible, and the quality would be decidedly low, which would put off a significant portion of consumers. Additionally, with the speed of seasonal trends within the lower-priced fashion markets, styles will become dated fast, and sales at markdown prices could be expected. The key to low-priced kitten heels is adherence to the pump and slingback trends in popular colours.