Thursday 27 January 2011

Shoe Brands and Heel Heights

If you wear heels to dance in, you probably have a current preference as to heel height. And suppliers and makers of dance shoes normally tell you what their heel height is, so you can decide which product to buy, if you order online.

There are, however, pretty wide variations to how they measure.

My preferred heel height for tango shoes is, more or less, 7cm - which is about the same as 2.75" if you're American, or you're the kind of British eccentric who measures even small things in the old-fashioned way, instead of only things larger than you can easily carry. At 9cm I'll get joint pain, knee strain, and a choppy, ungainly motion. 8cm is my maximum. Lower is fine by me, right down to socks.

Here are some salsa shoes, made by a company called Oobashoo, who as far as I know are British. They sell these heels as 2.75". I've rested a steel ruler, which starts at zero, in the gully of the seam that goes up the back of each pair of shoes, and taken a picture as near straight-on as I could manage so there's not too much perspective. Then I've continued the ruler's lines at 7cm and 8cm across the picture.

Oobashoo - 2.75 inch heels (=7cm)
Here, I think a 7cm measurement is fair; your foot is about 7cm off the ground where the heel supports it, allowing for the thickness of the sole.

This next pair are made in Italy for a German brand, Werner Kern. Their range for the tango market is called Nueva Epoca. This style is labelled as a 7cm heel. (The thickness of the heel is completely irrelevant to comfort or function as far as I'm concerned, as long as it's correctly placed, and in many cases I prefer the look of the thicker ones; but a thinner heel is the current fashion for tango.)

Werner Kern Nueva Epoca - 7cm heel
It's about the same as the Oobashoo. Nothing in it, really.

Lastly, here are the well-known Argentinian brand, Comme Il Faut (sold in London by Coleccion la Recoleta). Comme Il Faut label them as 7cm heels. I really think this is pushing it. I would label them 8cm. On the upside, if I can dance well in these without hurting myself, then I can probably wear Nueva Epoca's 8cm styles.

Comme Il Faut - “7”cm heel
But it's marginal. The difference between the Oobashoo and the Comme Il Faut is more than enough to cause problems if it comes at a point that's crucial for your body. And all of these are labelled as the same height.

When I buy a new brand I try to have a longish try-on with big steps and pivots, and to wear them first to a nice long gentle practice session, and do some boring technique exercises, just to make sure they're OK, rather than find out they're not when it matters.


Modern Tanguera said...

Great post! I know that shoe manufacturers sometimes use different points of reference for their heel measurements (up the back of the heel, up the front, in the middle). That could account for some of the variation (although the CIF measurement you showed does look more than a little bit off).

You are inspiring me to pull out my shoes and measure them!

msHedgehog said...

@MT yes, quite. And we need to be aware of just how big a difference there really is. Because this isn't just a number, like dress sizes (the more you pay, the smaller a size you can be). It purports to be a measurement in centimetres!

ghost said...

Makes sense - at high levels of martial arts like aikido, it all comes down to moving the person that extra centimetre. It's scary how much you can compromise someone's balance and stance integrity with so little.

The effect is magnified in tango because the better you get the more precise your movements get and the smaller the margin for error.

As an aside, a good engineer will build in a 10% safety margin. Going from 7cm to 8cm exceeds that margin by about another 50%!