The Ugly Shoe: Why Traditional Men’s Footwear Redesigned as High Heels is Such a Hard Sell

We women are very fortunate. When it comes to clothing, we have more choices than we’ve ever bargained for.  And as if that weren’t enough, designers love to tweak traditional male pieces to create even more garments for us to wear, far more than what is available to men.

Thanks to a fashion industry that encourages the borrowing of traditional male fashions, women get away with appropriating classic elements of the traditional male wardrobe, without their gender or sexuality ever coming into question. Alas, a man dares put on a Scottish kilt, and unless he’s Marc Jacobs or a piper from the Irish Defence Force, his brazen sartorial effort will not be well received.

Much of this, the late fashion theorist Fred Davis argues, has to do with cross-gender dressing and androgynous fashions, which disproportionately lean towards women borrowing from men, not vice versa. When paired with a ruffled lace blouse, a woman wearing a traditional suit jacket does not stir the gender equilibrium. No one ever questions a woman’s sexuality or views her borrowing of male clothing as a threat to masculinity, since a woman in cross-gender attire is never taken at face value, but rather as a playful sartorial execution. With this unfair advantage, our wardrobes are thus full of fedoras, men’s shirts, neckties, ascots, trousers, tuxedos, military jackets and the list goes on. But our wardrobes do seem lacking in one particular tweaked cross-gender item: traditional men’s shoes redesigned as pumps or high heels. It appears that while we readily borrow from menswear, our high heel shoes must not, and cannot, cross gender lines.

Aside from diamonds, the high heel shoe is truly a girl’s best friend, the sartorial epitome of femininity. In an androgynous outfit, a girl still looks like a girl so long as she wears a pair of towering heels.

But is a high heel shoe that bears resemblance to traditional men’s footwear still a high heel shoe? Take the Michael Kors or Tommy Hilfiger duck boot for example. Both designers have come up with a feminine equivalent to the classic duck boot, and although both were rather well received by the fashion cognoscenti, neither one seems too popular with actual consumers, who were quick to brand them “ugly shoes”. Apart from fashion insiders, and audacious trendsetters, these beauties haven’t gotten much wear in the streets. Despite their availability, everyday women still opt for the traditional men’s duck boot: flat, robust, and thought to be far more reliable to trek through snow-filled streets. Why is it that these quirky, inventive shoes haven’t caught on the same way that every other menswear-inspired garment has?



A high heel shoe is, by its very definition, beautiful. The elegance it bestows on its wearer is unparalleled. The high heel is filled with erotic symbolism as well. Perhaps, this explains why any high heel shoe that strays from this model inadvertently fails to appeal to consumers. As soon as it becomes clunky, heavy, rough, and unpretty, it fails to tug at women’s heartstrings. The high heel shoe is also a status symbol. Could it be that the duck boot, a variant of the traditional boot used by Canadian trappers, alludes to the working-class, and as such, is too close for comfort?

If designers are forward-thinking enough to come up with innovative feminized versions of popular, practical men’s shoes, why not embrace it? The very fact that it comes with a heel, however clunky, makes it a feminine shoe nonetheless, doesn’t it? Herein lies the difference between the original version and its alter ego: the heel. Like all other appropriated garments, the duck boot revisited is a playful jab at traditional male insignia, adorned with a heel to feminize it.  For women wary of sporting such tradition-defiant shoes, simply wear them with a girly dress, and I guarantee you, you’ll quickly fall in love. All in all, fashion should be fun, hence when designers come up with a shoe you’ve secretly always wanted to wear, but wish it came in a more feminine version, why be afraid to give it a try?

Photos via,

4 Responses to “The Ugly Shoe: Why Traditional Men’s Footwear Redesigned as High Heels is Such a Hard Sell”
  1. Magda says:

    Lovely post, Katia. Those high-heeled duck boots are quite strange and interesting.

  2. Mariah says:

    Not a big fan of the feminized duck boot — I suspect it might be the height — were it mid-calf I think I might like it better, but I am generally a fan of menswear inspired anything for women. Have been contemplating a pair of saddle shoes with a heel, myself… Great post!

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