The shoe of the season is a mesh flat
Why here, why now, which ones are the best and, of course, how to wear them
I will be at Club Vintage by The Seaport this Thursday from 5-7 p.m. with a bunch of clothes I am selling. Come shop! Come hang! Here’s the flyer (I’m not selling most of what’s on it, but there is great stuff like a classic Sicilian sundress, Prada nylon shorts and fun tops galore.
There is an excerpt from an early chapter of Women Who Run with The Wolves that has been swirling through my mind lately. The author of the book, Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes, ”An old witch from Ranchos told me that La Que Sabe (The One Who Knows) knew everything about women, that La Que Sabe had created women from a wrinkle on the sole of her divine foot: This is why women are knowing creatures, they are made, in essence, of the skin of the sole, which feels everything…[a] tribeswoman once told me that she’d worn her first pair of shoes when she was twenty years old and was still not used to walking…with blindfolds on her feet.”
Since I read that quote I have been thinking about the modern proliferation of flat shoes among women. It’s like, no matter how beautiful a pair of heels (or platforms for this matter) can be, no matter how comfortable they are, how good or tall or svelte they make you look (or superficially feel), they never feel (to the extent of comfort and mobility) as natural or grounding or freeing or even as authentic as flats do.
This is not to say that heels are bad or wrong or that you shouldn’t wear them — sometimes it feels great to lift yourself off the ground, to know that it is a given option you don’t have to fight for or defend. It might be just the boost that you need today. And every trend has a flip side: for as pervasive and popular as flats have become, there has been a flood of overwhelmingly high platform heels making themselves known as worthy-of-paying-attention-to on various runways and therefore corners of the shoppable internet in recent seasons
But overall, in sum, more generally speaking, heels don’t feel as essential to the composition of an outfit, to the completion of one’s superficial self, as they once did.
This is probably a quite freeing condition for those who never liked them to begin with and as we can’t unsee the comfort we’ve already released unto the soles (and souls) of our feet through the fell wearing of sneakers, ballet flats, sock boots, loafers, embellished sandals, fabric slippers and on, there is also no turning back.
Maybe this is on account of the comfort factor, or maybe it’s a function of the trends of the moment and the shape of their movement, and how the shoes relate (to the extent that they make for a great compliment to various silhouettes that peddle the quietude of the moment or add a zing of hush to an otherwise loud look), or maybe as part of these qualities too, there’s a tacit, spiritual yearning that is growing more pronounced, or dare I say…transparent that is tied to flat shoes.
They might reveal an underlying feminine desire, in line with the ideas brought forward by Estés, to reconnect with one’s knowing — to get and to stay close to the rhythm of the ground.
Meshing with the trend of the season
Because one of the most salient footwear trends of the moment is wearing mesh flats. Many of the variations at market right now make it look like you’re wearing socks, with the texture of your foot protruding from the top of the shoe. They are indiscriminate in their basic composition (you are basically wearing a slab of fabric sewn onto a thin sole) and yet they wield so much attention because of, I guess, how unusual they look?
It bears mentioning that the true inauguration of this trend took place at the end of the summer of 2019, when this one pair of slippers by The Row began to populate the shoppable internet. The shoes looked a lot like hosiery cut off at the ankle, or those aquatic shoes one is urged to wear while snorkeling or scuba diving. They seemed like a descendant of the glove flat.
For the following Spring (2020; which showed in New York the prior September of 2019), the brand sent down the runway a pair of sandals that looked like a slight sole attached to the foot by Saran Wrap (pictured above at right).
These reflected the growing trend of PVC heels, but were among the first to be articulated in a less discernibly and conventionally sexy way, and on a more wearable last. For the current season, they’ve been recut in mesh while elsewhere, a more exaggerated net upper has been articulated too.
We’re 5 seasons past that inception point now, but you can’t turn a page on the shoppable internet without encountering at least one variation of the style.
But why now and not then? There is the newfangled Alaia effect on the one hand — in the hands of Pieter Mulier, Alaia has become one of the most culturally relevant brands in fashion again.
At the level of the lowest common denominator, this is no doubt because of the accessories, and in particular the mary-jane shoe craze the house set off last year.
Those blockbuster hits were released in mesh sometime in the last year and could be part of the reason so many of us are paying attention to the trend and buying in elsewhere.
What’s interesting in particular about Alaia’s brand of virality (the other items that have reached peak interest include heart and crescent moon-shaped bags) is that it seems to be the house’s commercial trends that are taking off most prominently. None of what we’re discussing here ever made it to the runway.
Lauren Sherman wrote a great line item in her broader Line Sheet a few weeks ago about Mulier’s burgeoning contribution to fashion. It’s pretty wild to think that his accessory trends have not just taken off but taken on their own life forms, contextualizing trends that already exist in the mainstream but which somehow become stickier when they’re Alaia.
If I had to guess how and why this happens, it’s probably got to do with how warmly the industry and its insiders (the editors) have embraced the brand. Such is the power of the individuals at the tippy top.
There’s an air of quiet luxury about it all: the way in which the shoes easily fold into the dressing principles mandated by QL with what seems like it would be a faint, under-the-radar presence, but which actually ends up speaking louder than most of the clothes do.
Which is the other thing, I think, about this trend and why it might be taking off now.
3 key ingredients for a successful trend takeoff
As far as I can tell, three conditions have to be present for a trend to takeoff.
The first is the practical: what problem does the trend solve? In this instance, they are among the best option to compliment many of the clothing silhouettes on rinse in the current trend cycle.
Wherein hemlines/inseams are wider and longer (making for much baggier pants) and silhouettes are more voluminous, the shoes create a good balance against the overwhelming silhouettes, with the illusion of a barefoot adding a dynamic of sparseness.
The second condition is cultural: what statement do you make by choosing to participate in the trend? This is where the cache of quiet luxury comes in, folding into the faintness of the trend’s dressing principles.
The third condition is tacit, more emotional — the human desire, craving, or yearning that underpins the trend. This is where I return to the speculation brought forward in the lede and offer one more speculation.
Because, yes, to want to be close to the motions of the ground beneath us might suggest that we could be in pursuit of greater access to our intuition — of greater confidence in our own knowing but it could also imply a sort of intentionality.
Because the thing about transparent shoes is that you can see your feet even though they’re contained. It’s like you’re watching them in motion, in the vehicles that take them.
For a trend to promote the witnessing of this process presents an interesting dynamic that might well reflect one’s desire to see themselves go — to watch as they move, to make sure they know that they are the ones taking them wherever they’re headed.
It might be a stretch but I’m going to go with it and suggest that such shoes are like a claim for one’s own life and force.
The final step (pun intended) out of the archaic archetype of naive damsel, into a new form of active agent.
They’re my favorite category of accessory to look at, to wear, to style around, and they hold a lot of meaning to the extent that we use shoes and need shoes to leave the house.
To be people in the world!
And there’s something wild to me — like truly and unbelievably integrative about the possibility that with a woman’s shoes getting flatter and in this instance becoming literally transparent, we are fusing our respective dualities: the women we find within ourselves when we are at home and those we find when we are out in the world — affording them an opportunity to co-exist, in tandem, out in the open, ad infinitum.
No shame, no secrets, no cutting off from or shoving down or pushing away of one’s self.
I just love the possibility.