“Barbie heels” are everywhere right now, but why?


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Photo: Getty Images/Kirstin Sinclair

A few weeks ago, Well+Good’s senior style editor slacked me a picture of some really cute Loeffler Randall slingbacks. “I keep seeing these heels with the V-cut toe that remind me of my Barbie’s heels growing up,” she said, adding a photo of the Barbie shoes in question. And I instantly got what she meant—pumps or mules that give fairly full coverage of the foot, with an angular upper that plunges down towards the toe.

I did a little more digging and came across tons of other variations on the look. Tibi’s current collection features an office-appropriate, kitten-heeled “Barbie shoe.” Stella McCartney’s version is crafted with sexy, peek-a-boo PVC. Jimmy Choo’s ballet-pink take rings true to the Barbie vibe, while Alumnae NYC makes theirs super-modern in python and red leopard prints.

Of course, Barbie probably wasn’t at the front of designers’ minds when these styles were born. But given that this shoe shape was popular back in the ’80s and ’90s—not just in plastic Malibu dream houses, but in real womens’ closets, too—it’s safe to say that nostalgia did play a role. At least, that was the case for London-based designer Alexander White, whose Mila pump perfectly illustrates the trend.

“The Mila is inspired by a shoe my grandmother used to wear when I was a little boy. It was this gorgeous brown elaphe [snakeskin] high-vamp pump with an 80mm heel,” he tells me. (That’s what the style is actually called, FYI—a high-vamp pump.) “Every time she wore it, I knew we would go somewhere exciting. So I wanted to recreate that feeling, and that’s how the Mila was born.” 

With the world basically on fire right now, it makes sense that designers (and the rest of us) are loving styles that transport us back to a simpler time, says fashion psychologist Dawnn Karen, MA, EdMc. “We’re typically drawn to fashion that reminds us of our childhood to return to that feeling of innocence and not having any pressures in the world,” explains Karen, a lecturer at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. “We wear these things to recreate the nostalgia of what it meant to us to be children.” She adds that you can see this everywhere in fashion today, from the frilly socks women are wearing with their heeled sandals to the fanny packs beloved by Kendall Jenner and Rhianna.

White agrees that the high-vamp shoe trend is part of a broader wave of sartorial sentimentality among millennials. “I feel like it’s a fresh take on the ’90s,” he says. “Everywhere you look right now you are bombarded with ’90s references, so it’s pretty hard to ignore.”

For me, this resonates big-time. If I’ve had a crazy day at work or am stressed over a scary news headline, one of my favorite ways to decompress is to throw on something sparkly or ruffly—AKA something my 8-year-old self would have flipped over—to meet my friends for a drink. And I could totally see a pair of “Barbie shoes” fitting into this escapist aesthetic, as well as making my day-to-day, jeans-and-T-shirt vibe a little more whimsical. Sure, there are probably more effective ways of dealing with the pressures of modern life—but let’s not underestimate the healing power of playing dress-up.

For more ’90s goodness, throw your hair into a claw clip (also trending!) and pop one of Cher’s workout videos into your parents’ VCR.

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