I recently chanced upon an article regarding Saint Laurent’s Fall 2017 Ready-to-Wear Collection on Vogue.com. (Before you go “what’s that gotta do with science”, don’t worry, this is not going to be a chronicle of my shopping habits.)
Amongst the heaps of knee- and thigh-high boots sent onto the runway, what attracted my attention was a pair of sleek black patent heels (hold your horses), which was claimed to be “impossible-looking” and “physics-defying”.
The traditional heel was missing. In its place, a rectangular piece of plastic (?) material lay flat on the ground and connected to the angled shank. The structure looked too precariously flimsy in my opinion (but hey, what do I know about fashion?).
This begs the question: why didn’t the model fall and break her neck? Or at the very least, why didn’t she break the shoes?
Vogue.com Fashion News Writer, Liana Satenstein, approached Professor Michael Tuts, professor and chair of the Physics Department at Columbia University, for an explanation on this phenomenon.
“Essentially, the foot exerts a force on the shank. That force is then transmitted to the flat heel, which, in turn, exerts a force on the ground at both ends of the flat heel,” Professor Tuts stated. “In that sense, it is not different from the regular shoe where the foot exerts a force on the shank and the shank exerts a force on the ground through the actual vertical heel and the toe, which is in contact with the ground.”
“[For the heel-less shoe to work], the bottom piece has to extend past the point where most of the weight is pressing down on the shoe,” he added. “If the bottom piece is too short, then you will tip over backward. If the bottom piece is long, then it will be stable.”
In other words, as long as the flat piece of heel at the bottom is long enough, you will be able to walk in them. Of course, nothing is implied about the comfort level and your experience in strutting in high heels.