High Heels for a Down Economy?

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When the economy heads south, women’s heels go north.

A look back at decades of shoe fashion research reveals that high heels soared during the worst recessions. “Usually in an economic downturn, heels go up and stay up as consumers turn to more flamboyant fashions as a means of fantasy and escape,” says Dr. Trevor Davis, a consumer products expert with IBM Global Services.

The average heel height today is six inches, more than double what it was the 1970s.

From the depression in the 1930's to the oil crisis in the 70's, and the dot com crash in 2000, high heels replaced flats and low, thick heels.

But once again this recession is different.

A computer based analysis of the last four years of social media posts shows discussions of increasing heel height peeked near the end of 2009, and declined after that. “Key trend-watching bloggers between 2008 and 2009 wrote consistently about heels from five to eight inches,” says an IBM summary of its research. “By mid 2011 they were writing about the return of the kitchen heel and the perfect flat from Jimmy Choo and Louboutin.”

While heels on many women’s shoes are still high, the social networking analysis suggests a change in trend.

“This time something different is happening,” says Dr. Davis about the current economic problems many shoppers face. “Perhaps a mood of long term austerity is evolving among consumers sparking a desire to reduce ostentation in everyday settings.”

IBM says its new research “highlights the predictive capacities of social media analysis as a source of valuable insights” for businesses interested in market trends and planning future products.