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YesYou’ve heard of the hem index. It was first theorized in 1926 by economist George Taylor, and stated that skirts get shorter in times of financial prosperity and longer in times of recession. But could a parallel theory work for women’s shoes? As an era approaches where Covid metrics are loosening and spending gradually increasing, can the height of your heels be a good economic predictor of an era of boom or bust?

The exaggerated heel is all the rage (a possible harbinger of the so-called Roaring Twenties) while the hashtag #pleaserheels (named after the high-arch shoe) has had over 118 million views on TikTok. This weekend, Beyoncé teamed a black Versace dress with a pink Barbie jacket and a pair of matching heels. Earlier this month, Lady Gaga wore sky blue sportswear with extreme platform heels.

Can the “high heel index” predict economic growth?  |  Woman’s shoes
Lady Gaga leaves New York’s Radio City Music Hall. Photograph: Gotham / GC Images

Carrie Bradshaw 2.0 hasn’t given up on her high-heeled shoes, judging by photos from the set of the revival show Sex and the City, And Just Like That. The shoes even made it to the White House – when Olivia Rodrigo matched her Chanel suit with super stacked heels.

Menswear continues to flirt with an exaggerated heel: This weekend, Kanye West’s Donda album featured a Balenciaga look with black wedge heels straight out of Kiss’s glam-rock locker room.

Trevor Davis, a former consumer products expert at IBM, has come up with a theory that links heel length to economic recovery. The index worked by analyzing social media and other online sources for influencers and consumers’ references to shoes and boots where there was either a specific heel height mentioned, such as’ four inches’ or a phrase that could easily be equated to a pitch, ”he says. “We then correlated that with a variety of economic performance indicators to get the index.” He says the data revealed that when economic indicators fell, heel height initially increased, but if the economy remained in recession for more than a few months, heel height decreased.

Davis and his team also found that people used fashion as a way to get through tough times. “We interpreted this as an initial quest for glamor to counter the cold economic winds,” he says. “But with the prolonged downturns, an austerity mindset has changed the mood of consumers and less ostentation has become the norm, and heel heights have declined.”

Although the index was designed before the pandemic, Davis says he sees a link between the increase in the heel we are seeing now and a post-Covid economic boom. “I would expect some of the accumulated expense to be diverted to increased heel height to match a lighter mood and a sense of freedom and escape,” he says.


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