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Unflattering, unhygienic, sole-destroying and tricky to style… Ballet flats are back, but ANNA PURSGLOVE is less than delighted at their return


Ballet flats are back. Four words I hoped I would never hear.

The last time this shoe style was big (figuratively, you understand, although we’ll return to the horror of the Frankenpump later) Kate Moss was swanning around West London in a skinny scarf and drainpipe jeans. 

The accompanying flats said, ‘I’m too bohemian for proper shoes. I could kick these off in a second.’ 

We all thought we looked like Kate. We did not look like Kate. And the intervening decades have not brought us any closer to that goal. Yet still we are buying ballet flats.

So what fashion voodoo has persuaded us that calf-widening, arch-destroying, hygiene-swerving, toe-clenching shoes are a great addition to our 2024 wardrobes? ‘ Because they’re easy’, I hear you say. 

But they aren’t. If by ‘easy’ you mean ‘time saving’ and your schedule really is too packed for shoelaces, then you need to examine your life choices.

If you mean sartorially easy, then I beg to differ. Because it’s a delicate shoe, the ballet flat is swamped (and thus rendered redundant) by all but the most delicate and ankle-revealing clothing. 

So, if you have Kate Moss’s figure then by all means go ahead and wear them with a denim mini, a tulle skirt or a drainpipe jean. For the other 99.99 per cent of the female population, ballet flats are almost impossible to style.

Then there’s the hygiene issue. Ballet flats are a bare-leg thing –unless you’re actively trying to look like a seven-year-old dressed up in white tights for a trip to see Frozen. And that means they stink.

Let’s not even go there with shoe liners. They’re never wholly covered by the shoes, and nothing kills a bohemian vibe like an inch of exposed American Tan polyester.

Of course, no rant about the tyranny of the ballet pump would be complete without mention of their ruinous effect upon the feet. 

Podiatrist Maggie Trevillion, an expert in biomechanics, foot function and gait analysis, gives a list of conditions caused/exacerbated by this style. Fill your boots with a choice of ‘plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinopathy, Morton’s neuroma, lower back pain, bunions and hammer toes’.

And Trevillion isn’t finished there. When you walk, she explains, you need a 1cm gap at the front of your shoe ‘for full toe extension when toeing off’ (isn’t that a great expression? I’ve made a mental note to do more of it). ‘When you wear a ballet flat, this isn’t possible as the shoe would fall off your foot.’

At this point I am prepared for objections from devotees offering other ways to attach ballet flat to foot. I see you and I am ready for you. 

Let’s begin with the elasticated ballet flat. The reason for putting elastic around an item of footwear is that it hasn’t been cut to fit an actual human foot. In other words, it’s a temporary over-shoe. The footwear equivalent of the hairnet and with all the associated elegance. Avoid.

Now let us turn to the Mary Jane ballet flat, where I refer you to my previous comment about little girls going to see Frozen.

For some reason, already cognisant of the Mary Jane’s tendency to infantilise the wearer with its single strap, designers seem to lean further into the cutesy look, covering them in crystals or turning them out in pink. 

We all thought we looked like Kate Moss. We did not 

Frankly it’s hard to know what would toughen up a Mary Jane ballet flat. Maybe a print featuring the world’s deadliest assault weapons? Although that may not play well at Next.

Anyway, all prints are banished in the latest incarnation of the ballet flat because it’s made of mesh. Breathable, I suppose, but what of its pavement life? Remember the way your ballet flats used to hang over their flimsy soles, putting leather in direct contact with tarmac? 

Before the week of purchase was out, you’d have a series of scars on the soft leather, which would swiftly become holes. If those are already holes – well, you get the point.

And so to the aforementioned Frankenpump.

If you haven’t seen one yet, then imagine a ballet flat slammed with great force into a clumpy trainer so they fuse and become one hideous monster. In the process, the shoe loses any elegance that may have been conferred by its ballet flat ancestry while simultaneously becoming deeply impractical as a trainer. 

I suppose they might give a slightly better ‘toe off’, but it would be better still with the inclusion of laces.

So go on, build some time into your day to tie a shoelace. Call it mindful lacing. Just please don’t buy another pair of ballet flats. 

They say trends come back every 20 years, so if you manage to stay strong this year you won’t have to worry about them again until 2044. 

And by then we’ll all be able to fly.



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