Can the ‘high heel index’ predict economic growth?

ou will have heard of the hemline index. It was first theorised in 1926 by the economist George Taylor, and stated that skirts get shorter during times of financial prosperity and longer in a recession. But could a parallel theory work for women’s shoes? As we approach an era of Covid measures relaxing and spending gradually increasing, can the height of your heels be a good economic predictor of a boom or bust era?

The exaggerated heel has been trending (a possible harbinger for the so-called roaring 20s) while the hashtag #pleaserheels (named after the high-arched shoe) has had more than 118m views on TikTok. At the weekend, Beyoncé paired a black Versace dress with barbie pink jacket and matching pair of super heeled shoes. Earlier in the month, Lady Gaga wore some baby blue body-con athleisure with some extreme platform heels.

Carrie Bradshaw 2.0 has not given up her superheeled shoes, judging by the photos from the set of Sex and the City revival show, And Just Like That. The shoes even made it to the White House – when Olivia Rodrigo matched her Chanel suit with some superstacked heels.

Men’s fashion continues to flirt with an exaggerated heel: at the weekend, Kanye West’s Donda album was accompanied by a Balenciaga look featuring black platform heels straight out of Kiss’s glam-rock wardrobe.

Trevor Davis, a former consumer products expert at IBM, came up with a theory that matched heel length with economic upturns. “The index worked by analysing social media and other online sources for influencer and consumer references to shoes and boots where there was either a specific height of heel mentioned, like ‘four inches’ or a phrase that could be equated easily to a height," lui dice. “We then correlated that with a variety of indicators of economic performance to get the index.” He says the data revealed that when economic indicators turned down the heel height initially went up, but if the economy remained in a recession state for more than a few months then heel heights went down.

Davis and his team also found that people were using fashion as a way to navigate through hard times. “We interpreted this as an initial pursuit of glamour to counteract the cold economic winds," lui dice. “But with lengthy downturns, an austerity mindset shifted the consumer mood and less ostentation became the norm, and heel heights declined.”

Although the index was conceived before the pandemic, Davis says that he sees a link between the increased heel we are seeing now and a post-Covid economic boom. “I would expect some of the pent-up spending to be diverted to increased heel height to match a lighter mood and a sense of freedom and escape," lui dice.

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