Why Do We Wear Such Painful Fashion Trends?

An episode of hit TV show The Face made me question, "Are painful fashion trends worth it?" In season one of the U.K. version of The Face, the models were given a tough challenge on the set of a Maserati advertisement. The women had to wear high-end designer dresses while running in heels towards the new Maserati Quattroporte car. The premise of the advert was to showcase a race between the models to reach the car at the end where the "winner" of the race would deliver a line. The women were dressed in stunning couture gowns by Iris van Herpen, which were worth about $47,000. The overall look was very futuristic and the ladies were able to vent their frustrations with each other in their competitive race to the luxury vehicle.

However, what made my brain start ticking wasn't just the fact that the women had to sprint in high heels: One of the models, Racquel Smith, complained that her dress wasn't comfortable. From the comfort of my chair in my cozy PJs, I rolled my eyes at her diva attitude as I couldn't believe she was making such a fuss about her outfit while she was being mentored by Naomi Campbell on a Maserati ad shoot — a position many aspiring models would kill to be in. It wasn't until after the shoot when Racquel peeled off her dress that the audience was shown her bleeding legs where it appeared the dress had cut into her. Racquel wasn't a whiner. In fact, she was totally hardcore!

Racquel's brave feat of wearing painful fashion is sadly not a new act. Millions of women from all over the world have worn painful garments throughout history just to make a fashion statement.

We have seen foot binding throughout Chinese history, which involves girls between the ages of four and nine having their feet bound — a process that included breaking their toes and the arch of their feet. There has been the hoop skirt, which was first worn by women in Spain in the 16th century, and which made it super hard for them to move around and a struggle to get through doors. And who could forget the infamous corset, which became fashionable in the mid 1500s and reigned as the main supporting undergarment of choice for roughly 350 years? This particular garment was said to be so tight that it restricted blood flow and caused women to faint — remember Elizabeth Swann's dramatic plunge into the sea in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl? Women are still wearing corsets and even waist-training in an attempt to achieve a tiny waistline.

I must hold my hands up high and admit that I have worn painful garments because I liked the way they made me look. The most memorably painful item I have (which is still hanging in my closet to this day, just in case I fancy unleashing my inner masochist) has to be my modified wedding dress. I found this particular wedding dress at an awesome vintage sale in London, which to this day was the best I have ever attended. My friend who was studying a course in fashion design helped me snip away the excessive frills and transform it into an unusually ethereal, asymmetric number. However, I soon discovered it to be a very tight fit and the boning inside the dress (which had escaped the lining) poked and jabbed me whenever I moved.

As it is a one-off, beautifully bespoke piece that was redesigned for me by a friend, I just can't bear to throw it away. It still remains tight, but I found a comedic hack to fix the boning issue (while I find someone who can fix it): Putting clean socks around my waist to create a barrier between my skin and the boning. It is a gorgeous dress and it comes in super handy for halloween costumes.

There are still so many women in the world, myself included, who put fashion over comfort. Many people in the fashion industry view this as the norm. Renowned shoe designer Christian Louboutin even said,

"High heels are pleasure with pain." — Christian Louboutin

This has been exemplified time and time again when we have seen models and fashion lovers wearing shoes that are far too high or uncomfortable for them, which results in them not being able to walk properly, or worse, falling over.

Therefore, I wanted to ask real women if they would ever sacrifice their comfort for fashion. I asked eight friends and family members if looking good was ever worth the pain, and these were the results.


"Damn right it's worth the pain!" — Betsy, 25

On The Fence

"My ankles are knackered from high heels and my head sore from extensions." — Kim
"I'm a lot happier in t-shirts and jeans, I would much rather be comfortable. Except on a night out (which is a rare occasion) when heels are involved I don't mind the pain as long as they look good." — Leonie, 25
"Only when it comes to shoes to an extent; if I can hardly walk then I'd rather buy more comfortable shoes. Nothing pretty about a face in pain and with so many choices I don't think there is any need. That being said I'm a fan of tattoos, they are worth the pain to me — the freedom to express myself how I choose to do it. So I guess I can understand why woman put themselves through pain for fashion..." — Stephanie, 27


"I used to wear shoes that hurt all the time ‘cos I thought they looked good. When I see women now creeping around like horses that have just been born I think it's the funniest, stupidest thing on the planet! So therefore I stick to wedges or flats now. Or just shoes I can walk in! I mean, surely that's the point of them isn't it?" — Bex, 29
"I think it changes with age. I used to wear clothes/shoes etc. that crippled me or would make me absolutely freeze but now when I pick an outfit comfort is high on the priority list. I still like to look good just not at the expense of my comfort." — Katy, 28
"I don't feel sexy if I'm uncomfortable." — Kim, 22
"Definitely not! Everybody wants to look good, but how can you feel good if you’re in pain? Pregnancy changed me! I carried on thinking I could wear what I wanted to look good... But soon realized it definitely wasn't practical and comfort was more important! I once had to cut my leggings open in a restaurant because I was so uncomfortable!” — Martha, 21

As you can see, most of these women were against or on the fence about wearing painful fashion, with just one woman telling me that it was 100 percent worth it for her. Although I only spoke to a handful of women, these particular findings suggest that when you reach a certain age and/or go through big changes in your life (such as becoming a mother) your clothing becomes more functional and you begin to crave comfort over troublesome fashion trends.

At the end of the day, of course everyone is entitled to wear whatever they want. But here's hoping we're moving away from painful, prehistoric fashions and moving into a more comfortable yet stylish future. I too shall embrace this new future of pain-free fashion by clearing out my hardly-worn, painful high heel collection and getting my broken dress fixed... Promise!

Images: Princess Productions; Shine Limited; Giphy (3); Phoebe Waller (2)