High Heels and the Desire for Status

In a study on conformity and human need for status,‘ researchers tell why women tend to go for higher high heels as a way of fitting in with others, especially, those in higher city.

Women judge their status by the height of their heel. They tend to adopt the local fashion (heel-height) worn by affluent women in wealthier cities, but ignore them when moving to lower socioeconomic (SES) cities.

Professor Kurt Gray, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who also co-authored the study, said:

“In other words, women want to look like the rich girls, and different from the poor girls.”

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Because of the problems in quantifying fashion choices, Gray and his colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University and Yale University, made use of objective measurements (the usage of height of women’s high heels) to examine the total 16,236 shoe purchases made in an online fashion retailer, by 2,007 women who moved between one of 180 U.S. cities within a period of five years.

Analyses revealed that, women who moved to higher city such as New York City or Los Angeles showed desire for conformity; their heel size closely matched the heel size that other women in those city had bought. But a desire to keep their individuality was recorded when they moved to lower cities.

This ‘trickle down conformity,’ is as a result of the deep human urge for status, Professor Gray explained:

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Why People Conform

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“From the beginning of time, people have thirsted for respect and social standing, and have aligned themselves with the powerful and distanced themselves from the powerles.”

“So it makes sense that they do the same with heel sizes.”

Galak J, Gray K, Elbert I, Strohminger. Trickle-Down Preferences: Preferential Conformity to High Status Peers in Fashion Choices. PLOS One. 2016

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