Everyone walks everywhere these days. Where possible, we walk to work. (Have you seen the price of travel?) We walk instead of taking the car. (The planet, stupid.) We walk with friends in the park at weekends. ( Especially now that everyone has a dog.)
We are all in thrall to our step count. What started as a straightforward benchmark of cardiovascular activity has become a modern metric of self-worth. You may not say your prayers before you go to sleep, but so long as you make it to 10,000 steps you can sleep easy. Walking isn’t quite as holy as wild swimming, but it still has the power to make you feel pretty smug.
The Fitbit is to the 2020s what the Jimmy Choo Fetto slingback pump (Diana, Princess of Wales’s favourite) was to the 1990s and the Manolo Blahnik Hangisi buckle court shoe, beloved by Carrie Bradshaw, to the 2000s. It is the accessory that defines the rest of your outfit. This is the case even if you don’t have an actual Fitbit, by the way. My stepcount ticks over only in my head, or on the Health app on my iPhone, but it still dictates a good deal of what I wear.
Walking has become a lifestyle choice. Taking taxis feels a bit retro these days, even if you can afford it. It feels modern to walk flush-cheeked into the pub, shutting down the Duolingo app as you take out your AirPods. Falling out of a black cab is a tiny bit too Patsy and Edina, somehow. In cities, Google Maps has democratised the Knowledge, making urban journeys easier to manage on foot. Meanwhile, a heatwave summer has filled up our phones with idyllic photos of rural yomps.
On a sunny day, the coastal paths of Cornwall and Norfolk are thronged with more Barbour-clad twentysomethings taking selfies for Insta than fleece-wearing retirees.
But which came first: the walking or the flat shoes? Did we start wearing flat shoes because we were walking more – or did walking become an option once we ditched the taxi shoes? The chicken and the egg, but make it fashion. Years ago , if I was walking to a meeting or a party I would carry heels in my bag and change into them just before I arrived. This involved hopping on one leg in a doorway, as ungainly a sight as getting changed on the beach. Which seems insane now. But back then, being seen in my walking shoes felt like going out in an apron, or wearing a shower cap. They simply weren’t public-facing attire.
For the past 15 years, most “It” shoes have been flats. Even the jazziest, most look-at-me shoes – all those fur-lined loafers and designer trainers at exorbitant prices – have been flat. Features that would once have been found only in the shoe department of Mountain Warehouse – wide riptape closures for a comfy fit, chunkily grooved soles for grip – are now de rigueur in the snazziest boutiques. You can have a Carrie Bradshaw-level shoe addiction these days and still walk everywhere.
Not only has walking elevated the flat shoe, it has changed the rest of our wardrobes, too. The cross-body bag has taken over from the shoulder bag as the everyday, work-bag standard. Shoulder bags, these days, are for when you are going out for dinner and feeling fancy. And the knee-hobbling pencil skirt, not so long ago an officewear staple, has almost certainly been jettisoned from your wardrobe, unless you are an American real estate agent.
Walking is more than a way from getting from A to B. It is a state of mind. In fashion terms, it’s a good look. So if you can’t walk in your outfit, it won’t get you very far.