What Is a ‘Bitchy, Pointy’ Shoe? And Why Are People Calling It That?
What Is a ‘Bitchy, Pointy’ Shoe? And Why Are People Calling It That?

What Is a ‘Bitchy, Pointy’ Shoe? And Why Are People Calling It That?

By Katharine K. Zarrella

September 8, 2023

As seen on wsj.com

TREACHEROUS. INTENTIONAL. BITING. A little mean. “That,” said New York stylist Micaela Erlanger, “is a bitchy, pointy shoe.” She’s talking about this season’s spikiest footwear—flats, kitten heels, boots and stiletto pumps with toes so sharp, they’ll get confiscated by the TSA. “It’s a term I’ve [used] over the years,” said Erlanger of the shoes’ somewhat abrasive moniker, which has been popping up more often in fashion-world exchanges. “It represents a certain attitude.”

From Balenciaga’s Knife shoes and Prada’s cutting kitten heels to Tamara Mellon’s articulated boots and Alexander McQueen’s metal-tipped mules, brands are collectively en pointe this season. Severe toes are “having a real resurgence,” said Mellon, who considers them “the fashion item of the fall.”

Mellon posited that the extreme shoe, often associated with 1980s and ’90s “power dressing,” is part of a larger rejection of overly casual attire. After Covid, she said, “people need something that looks fresh and different. When you’ve had too much of one thing for too long, the pendulum’s going to swing really far the other way. So we’ve gone from a Birkenstock to a bitchy, pointy pump.” And while these seemingly narrow shoes might look constricting, they needn’t be, said Marion Parke, a podiatric surgeon-turned footwear designer. To avoid pinching, she said, ensure the shoe isn’t overly long, which will cause your little piggies to slip too far into the point and become squished. Instead, buy a pair that fits lengthwise and have a cobbler stretch the width if necessary.

Marion Parke Classic Pumps

But why the “bitchy” descriptor? “When I say ‘bitchy,’ it’s not in the traditional sense of the word,” explained Erlanger. It’s more, she said, about a je ne sais quoi. Amanda Montell, a Los Angeles linguist and the author of “Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language,” explained that, since at least the 1990s, women have been reclaiming the word “bitch,” which likely derived from an ancient, ungendered Sanskrit term for genitals. “It’s gone on a roller-coaster ride of semantic change,” said Montell. “Like a ton of explicitly feminine slurs, [it] started with a neutral connotation and then devolved to mean something negative.” Thanks largely to Black female rap and hip-hop artists, such as Lil’ Kim, Trina and Rihanna, “bitch” can now connote strength, albeit subversively. “It’s context-dependent,” said Montell. “But if you’re a woman who wants to take up space…it’s an indication that someone sees you as holding power.”

Pointy shoes “sit on an axis of elegance and violence,” said Natalie Raimondi, a Brooklyn painter and product designer, who has over 10 pointy pairs. “It’s not a shoe that’s going to go unnoticed. I love that they’re rude in the way they show up.” Raimondi, 30, wears hers with loose trousers. Erlanger approves of that styling approach. “I like the dichotomy of a sexy, powerful shoe and a masculine look,” she said. “But you don’t need to be sexy to be bitchy. Let me be very clear, these are different things.”

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