How high can you go?

London, home to fashion icons like Oxford Street, Topshop, Kate Moss, Mayfair, Notting Hill and now the UK Institute of Physics.

Scientists from the institute have developed a formula for determining how high the heel on your shoe should be in any given social situation.

This is a question that has plagued women for time immemorial—height vs visual appeal, comfort vs practicality. These decisions can take valued time away from preparation for an evening out on the town.

The heel formula, developed by Dr. Paul Stevenson, calculates the optimum height of a heel by inputting data about the height of the shoe as well as sociological factors such as experience in wearing heels, how recently the shoes were in fashion, amount of alcohol consumed, cost and—my personal favourite—the ‘p’ factor, which allows the user to input their probability of ‘pulling’ in said shoes.

As well as being fashion essentials, heels can be truly menacing items. Ever seen a timber floor after a group of stiletto-clad ladies have traipsed over it? I don’t know about you but when I was at school there was always a story doing the rounds about some unfortunate bystander in thongs that had their foot punctured by a heeled monster. I was a bit sceptical about the possibility of this until I saw the consequences of a heel stomping on my poor cousin’s foot.

So what is it that makes heels such a deadly weapon? When we take a step, the first point that pressure comes down through is the heel. If you take the stiletto for example—the average base of which is similar in size to a thumbtack—then there is only a very small point through which the wearer’s entire body weight connects with the floor. When we walk normally in flat shoes our total body weight is spread out across a much larger surface area. The pressure being exerted through the heel of a shoe is the reason why, come Melbourne Cup, our heels sink ever so slowly into that soft green grass.

So next time you’re having a night out in heels think about the physics at play when deciding how high to go and watch out for exposed feet.