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Jane West

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It’s Friday night and I am getting ready to go out out after work. Somewhere fancier than where we usually go – remarkably fancier as it goes – and so inevitably, out come the heels. 

The only problem: It has been close to two years, with lockdowns and closures, since I last gave my heels an outing. Nonetheless, I want to dress up, for the first time in a long time; to feel good, to feel confident – and I must be honest, I do.

What is it about heels?

Heels have been long desired and recognised as a symbol of power, style and strength despite the medical warnings of long term use. They communicate authority and superiority. Those who choose to wear heeled footwear (of any kind) do so for the fashion, the look and the feeling it manifests; not to mention to make that ultimate impression. Studies have revealed the unnatural body shape transformation caused by the wearing of heels not only increases judgements of female attractiveness but also increases the woman’s selection of mates. The benefits definitely seem to outweigh the risks. Here however I ask, could the wearing of heels influence perceptions of intelligence? 

In other words, do women who wear heels embody a feeling of authority which in turn affects the self-perception of their intellect?

Let’s think about this

This conversation was sparked from an article published in 2013 by totalbeauty in which they discussed as a result of wearing heels, women were more likely to make more balanced economic decisions when shopping – could this be true?

The concept of balance seems here to be key. By focusing on the ability to stand tall and steady, could this really focus the mind and perhaps explain why more level-headed decisions are made when shopping?

Studies investigating links between the aesthetic of wearing heels and the science of intellect (or perception of) are few; yet research investigating the importance of fashion and Enclothed Cognition emphasise its ability to increase feelings of self-confidence – and high heels undoubtedly tie into this.

It is the blend of self-assurance combined with self-enhancement and poise from wearing such footwear that provides reason for why, when spending with a budget in mind, women may be more likely to hold true to that financial promise. Does this ring true with you?

Uh oh… and here comes Covid-19

Now however, let’s flip this conversation on its side. As the world felt the effects of the global pandemic in 2020, offices and public places closed and working from home became the norm, heels became redundant. They sat unworn and unneeded in our wardrobes for over a year.

Then, as we felt restrictions begin to lift, for many like myself on that fateful Friday night, the inevitable day came where it was the time to sport those heels once again. Fashion trends today reflect this in their mixing of smart and casual collections easing us back to normality. Flats are having their moment in the form of slippers, pumps, and sandals for the summer, worn with loose flowing dresses and flattering wide leg trousers.  Thus, still embracing the cosy and comfy, whilst moving away from our sweatshirts and leggings we saw the pandemic play out in for over a year – although we hate to admit it.

Therefore, if heels do increase feelings of intelligence, boost the wearer’s self-confidence and self-esteem, should we give up on them completely? Whilst it has been proven that heels boost us if the past year has taught us anything its that we can still be productive and dynamic even in our comfiest pyjamas and fluffiest slippers. While heels may provide confidence for women maybe we shouldn’t be reliant on them to display a perception of our intelligence.

Come on ladies, whilst we can embrace them as a fashion tool, true intelligence should not be measured by the height of your heels.

Picture it. You’re in a fitting room. You snap that selfie to send to your significant other. You’re in love, you feel great, and mentally you are already at the till tapping your card or handing over the cash. *Ping* You check your messages and your heart sinks to your gut. You are left with the dilemma: Do you continue to purchase, or is your opinion swayed and you walk away empty handed?

Fashion psychology makes clear the clothing we wear has real significance; whether we are conscious of it or not. It is a tool to express ourselves, but when the opinions of a romantic partner differ from our own regarding what we want to wear, do we alter that expression to please them? Even if it means putting aside our own style and fashion choices? 

I pledge allegiance

Fashion, and the clothing choices we make, allows for expression of self and the vision of ourselves as we wish to be seen. The psychology behind Fashion communicates an allegiance to a desired social group we wish to identify as, and if this is achieved, can lead to heightened feelings of belonging and respect. It lifts self-esteem and confidence as well as reflects cultural values and tradition in some cases; which hold immense power. 

Loosing ourselves

Research has shown when romantic partners express a dislike for something the other is passionate about (such as, style and fashion) it crushes this confidence and destabilises the relationship. Perhaps during early stages of dating, when making a good first impression, fashion does play a large part in that initial meet, so we pull out all the stops and overthink every outfit. But as time passes and couples feel more comfortable in a relationship, partners feel more liberty to be honest in such topics of conversation. This notion may provide some explanation but doesn’t help combat feelings of sadness when opinions land heavy if our boyfriends/girlfriends/partners show disgust for something we like.

Thus raising the question: Should we change the way we dress to suit the tastes of our respective partners in an attempt to be deemed attractive? Even if it means going against our own fashion inclinations and style?

Maybe no is the answer.

Research suggests clothing make us feel good. We have the freedom to dress to our liking in order to reflect our mood, our culture and our self as we identify. So why not be as creative (or as boring) as you please? If that pair of shoes puts a spring in your step, or that dress makes you carry yourself differently, if you feel fierce in a bold colour or statement piece, comfortable in those old, baggy sweatpants or glam in that dress – wear it! 

What your partner thinks is of their concern.

Love us for who we are

We all want to be seen as attractive in the eyes of the individual we are dating, as well as to the people around us – even if only from time to time or on that one-off occasion when you can go all out. On the flip side, studies have also shown if a partner feels uncomfortable or turned off, this can have an effect on the future of the relationship. 

Negative conviction towards the decisions made by another individual, who are trying to obtain a sense of control by expressing themselves, puts a strain on the relationship and creates friction. It leads to one of two outcomes: The person standing in the fitting room changes who they are to fit who their partner wants them to be (with or without either partner realising this is occurring) or the individual making the decision, ignores the opinion of their partner – and the reaction is out of their hands. Nonetheless, if the relationship is healthy both parties should love each other regardless.

Let me end by saying

Perhaps finding compromise whilst not losing yourself or your identity is the logical answer. Relationships should be able to weather any storm and the debate of fashion may be one deliberated but also taken with a pinch of salt. Collaboration on what the other finds attractive or flattering is great for opening up communication, but it should not be a detriment to the feelings of an individual or be used as a controlling tool to alter another’s tastes and preferences. Ultimately, fighting over fashion is not the answer, nor worth it and self-expression is a freedom every human being should possess. 

So who cares what your significant other thinks: just be you.

Commodity theory puts forward the notion: the scarcity of the product alters its perceived value. This perception of scarcity, exclusivity, and therefore reduced accessibility to all reinforces the principle of prestige that consumers expect from luxury fashion. Not to mention this ‘exclusiveness’ creates allure, consumer excitement builds which justifies higher price points. Finally, demand goes up for those who can afford the price tag – and where there is demand, there will be sales. But what happens when you can’t justify the high costs on the latest designer trends?

Fake it 'til you make it

It has been argued, the desire to own (or at least be seen to own) luxury goods, combined with influencer and social media-driven culture – reinforces the message that success is measured by ownership of material goods has resulted in a toxic formula.

Consumers of all ages, through platforms such as Instagram, are exposed to and engage in the artificial cultivation of sharing and crafting a fabricated ideal self – and one consequence of this movement is the surge in demand for counterfeit and fake designer goods – whatever the cost. 

Studies report this dysfunctionality stems from an unmatched pressure to dress in a manner which emulates the individual’s perceived image of ‘success’ through the owning of branded material goods. As a result, consumers gain the gratification of purchasing such goods, being seen to own the goods and show symptoms of exhibiting the somewhat warped traits of brand loyalty – whether the product is real or not seems of lesser importance.

So is the illusion that comes with consuming high end fashion (real or replicated)? Is the pressure own a designer item so intense that we’ll buy a fake just to belong? 

Consumer confusion

There is often confusion as to what is considered a knockoff or a counterfeit good – and where the line between what is legal and illegal is crossed.

A knockoff is a product that has copied the style of another product but not the exact design whereas, counterfeits are ‘[m]oney, goods, or documents not genuine, but have been made to look exactly like genuine ones in order to deceive people.’ Do you see how easy it is to blur the lines between legal and illegal trading and purchasing?

Even more, the fashion industry is in a constant state of rotation and adaptation. The high street takes inspiration from the runways, designers take inspiration from other designers, and fashion history is reworked and remodelled to produce future forecasted trends. Thus, the issue of copyright within the fashion industry is somewhat a catch 22 and an ever growing grey area.

The complicated relationship between consumers and counterfeits

So what is the allure to buying or sourcing counterfeit or fake fashion?

Even Gucci, in their Menswear Fall/Winter 2020 runway collection exploit the concept of embossing the wording ‘FAKE’ across the collection with the justification, “A playful commentary on the idea of imitation.”  Therefore re-igniting the conversation of how we feel about designer brands in 2021.

One explanation for our ability to justify buying knock-offs is Cognitive Dissonance Theory. For example, while millennials are more likely to buy counterfeit products due to factors such as affordability and social media pressures,  articles also suggest this generational group is in fact moving away from fast fashion due to the rising awareness of sustainability to prevent environmental harms.

Even with this being so, there is no doubt the consumption of counterfeit fashion is cause for concern. Why is the allure of owning fake designer fashion so rampant when there is so much readily available and accessible information surrounding both economic and humanitarian effects of producing and trading these goods? And as already mentioned, studies such as those by Psychologists Ha & Lennon (2006), Chaudhry & Stumpf (2011) and Maldonado & Hume (2005) have shown where there is a market and a demand, trading will continue to be widespread.

So what is the answer?

Owning a counterfeit version of a designer product not only impacts the consumer’s sense of identity – increasing feelings of achievement and instant gratification, but possession of fake luxury fashion also raises positive associations of belonging and acceptance from a desired social group.

However, the psychological impact of owning these goods, despite ethical concerns which are known and widely broadcast – even if quietly, are of lesser importance.

The exhibition of presenting the illusion of a luxury lifestyle via platforms, such as Instagram in exchange for societal approval trumps the ethical concerns. That being said, one thing is clear, there are strong grounds to suggest counterfeit fashion is not going away any time soon.