Screen shot of a female participant walking in flat shoes.
The symbolism of wearing high heels is a perennial human behavior question. But now scientists at the University of Portsmouth have published a study that objectively evaluates one charge leveled at heels: that they make women walk more sexily.
To test whether taller shoes actually increased a woman’s sex appeal, the researchers affixed reflectors to the heels, ankles, knees, hips and shoulders of the female participants. They recorded videos of the women walking in high heels and flat shoes, but only lights shone on the reflectors (not the women themselves) were visible. This point-light method allowed researchers to determine which gaits men found more attractive without letting a woman’s appearance—or the visibility of the heels themselves—skew their opinions.
Male observers found women wearing high heels consistently
more attractive than those wearing flat shoes. Researchers say the attraction stems from the fact that heels make a woman’s gait more feminine. High heels require a slightly adjusted way of walking, one that involves shorter steps and more hip movement. Since these characteristics are specific to women, overemphasizing these traits would in essence increase one’s femininity, they say, and by extension, one’s attractiveness to a male.
Just because high heels make a woman more attractive doesn’t mean that women wear them for sex appeal alone. Heels are a pervasive part of modern society, and have come to represent many other cultural values such as socioeconomic class and career success. The results of this study, published in Evolution and Human Behavior, only begin to address the ongoing tug-of-war between the evolutionary and cultural influences that make high heels so attractive.