The Uncanny Psychology of High Heels
As women’s heel height increases, men find them increasingly attractive.
Posted Dec 13, 2016
Editor's Note: The paper detailing the experiments cited in this post was retracted in October 2019.
Women’s shoes come in a wide array of heel heights. Shoes with the highest spike heels have been given nicknames implying that merely wearing them is an invitation to sex. But does heel height increase women’s attractiveness to men? In a series of four experiments, French researchers found that, strikingly, it does, and as heel height increases, men pay more attention to women—much more attention.
In the first experiment, researchers stationed a 19-year-old woman with a clipboard in front of a store. She wore a modest black skirt and white blouse covered by a black jacket, and fashionable black leather shoes. The only difference was that she was wearing one of three different heel heights—flat, medium, or high. When unaccompanied male pedestrians who appeared to be between the ages of 25 and 50 approached, she asked if they would like to participate in a four-minute survey dealing with gender issues. The woman accosted a total 90 men, changing her shoes after every 10. The researchers sat nearby and tracked men’s willingness to take the survey—and their willingness was directly related to the woman’s heel height:
- Flats: 47 percent of men were willing to take the survey.
- Medium heels: 63 percent of men were willing to take the survey.
- High heels: 83 percent of men were willing to take the survey.
In the second experiment, the researchers deployed four clipboard-equipped 19-year-old women to four different towns. The women were of similar height, weight, and foot size, and wore the same outfit as the women in the previous experiment—white blouse, black skirt, black jacket, and black leather shoes of various heel heights. Each woman was instructed to approach 45 men and 45 women (for a total of 180 men and 180 women) who appeared to be between the ages of 25 and 50 and ask if they’d participate in the survey. The survey-takers’ heel height made little difference to women’s willingness to take the survey, but a big difference to men’s.
Women willing to take the survey with the survey-taker wearing:
- Flats: 32 percent.
- Medium heels: 37.
- High heels: 30.
Men willing to take the survey with the survey-taker wearing:
- Flats: 42 percent.
- Medium heels: 60 percent.
- High heels: 82 percent.
The third experiment used the same women as in the second experiment, wearing the same clothing and same shoes with different heel heights. This time, the 19-year-old women walked down a commercial street rummaging through their purses, “accidentally” dropped a glove, and continued walking. Their heel height made little difference in female bystanders’ retrieval of the lost glove, but, once again, a big difference in men’s:
Women bystanders who retrieved the glove with the survey-taker wearing:
- Flats: 43 percent.
- Medium heels: 50 percent.
- High heels: 52 percent.
Men bystanders who retrieved the glove with the survey-taker wearing:
- Flats: 62 percent.
- Medium heels: 78 percent.
- High heels: 93 percent.
In a fourth experiment, the woman from the first experiment was sent to one of three bars on six Wednesday nights and six Saturday nights from 8:30 p.m. until midnight. She wore a skirt and a tight-fitting top, and was instructed to sit at a table by herself near the bar and cross her legs so men could see her shoes. The researchers sat nearby and recorded how quickly 36 men who appeared to be in their twenties attempted to engage her in conversation. The higher her heels, the faster they approached:
- In flats: 14 minutes.
- In medium heels: 11 minutes.
- In high heels: 7 minutes.
More Attractive, But at a Price
These experiments confirm what generations of women have intuitively known: High heels attract male attention. There are several reasons why. As heel height increases...
- Women’s breasts look larger. High heels cause the back to over-arch, which thrusts the breasts forward, making them appear larger and more prominent. Many studies have shown that prominent breasts attract more male attention.
- Women’s buttocks appear larger because they are lifted in heels. Some research indicates that as perceived buttock size increases, men feel more attracted to women.
- While walking in heels, women’s hips and buttocks sway more because heels shorten women’s gait.
- Women’s feet look smaller. While there are men who feel attracted to all manner of women—thin, heavy, short, tall—men evolved to be generally bigger and taller than women, and to feel attracted to women who are more petite than they are. High heels make women’s feet look more petite and, therefore, more attractive.
But this increased desirability comes at significant cost: High heels are uncomfortable and substantially increase risk of foot soreness, blisters, bunions, falls, ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis, ingrown toenails, nerve damage in the feet and legs, and knee and back pain.
The biological purpose of life is to reproduce life, to send one’s genes into the next generation. The easiest way for men to accomplish this is to impregnate lots of women. The easiest way for women to send their genes into offspring is to raise a small number of children to reproductive maturity—ideally with the ongoing support and assistance of a man whose love they attract and maintain over time.
Men lust after women, and some women experience male-style desire. But many women feel less motivated by lust than the need to feel desired, to attract and hold male attention. High heels attract male gazes. Women often complain about the downsides of high heels, but continue to wear them. Apparently, the yearning to appear desirable beats the desire to feel comfortable.
What do you think about high heels and women’s attractiveness? I’m interested in your opinions.
Gueguen, N. "High Heels Increase Women’s Attractiveness,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2015) 44:2227.
Luximon, Y. et al. “Effects of Heel Base Size, Walking Speed, and Slope Angle on Center of Pressure Trajectory and Plantar Pressure When Wearing High-Heeled Shoes,” Human Movement Science (2015) 41:307.
Moore, J.X. et al. “Epidemiology of High-Heel Shoe Injuries in U.S. Women: 2002 to 2012,” Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery (2015) 54:615.