I remember a time when men in heels was taboo. Hell, not five years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to see someone read as male in a heel unless they were in drag or using such a presentation toward some entertainment affect. But with folks like Sam Smith, Billy Porter, and RuPaul Charles (the man, not the queen) rocking pumps in the mainstream — from Instagram, to the red carpet, to The Late, Late Show — it gives me, a gender non-conforming bad bitch, some hope.
The first time I saw a man in heels was on TV. It was Ving Rhames in Robert Townsend’s classic film, Holiday Heart. The actor played Holiday, a church-going drag queen who becomes the parent figure for a 12-year-old girl whose drug-addicted mother (the iconic Alfre Woodard) struggles to take care of her. There’s a lot to chew on in the Golden Globe-nominated, made-for-TV picture, but what stuck with me most was the image of this towering, effeminate man exhibiting power, control, and internal resolve with the ways he showed up in the world. I was barely 10 years old.
Fast forward a couple years, America’s Next Top Model came on and I was introduced to the joy that is Miss J. Alexander. On an early episode, Miss J. emerged on set in just a T-shirt and heels. I remember my jaw dropping, along with the contestants, as we all marveled at his command of self. Like many I’m sure, I had never seen such combined femininity and Blackness on full display in a real-life body read as male. Paired with eventual ANTM judge (and icon) André Leon Talley, the two introduced me to gender nonconformity by Black men on a mainstream platform. They were my possibility portal into a world that accepted gender-bending Black folks while I still lived in one where manhood and masculinity were narrowly defined.
But that was long before I bought my first pair of heels, which was my initial foray into embracing nonconformity in my gender presentation. By the time that moment came, in 2014, I could no longer deny my innate longing for gender-bending fashion. And mustering up everything I had internalized from ANTM and What Not To Wear fashionistas Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, I set out to locate the perfect pump that would work best for my frame.
Hauling around 10.5 inches on each foot (a size 12 in “women’s”), however, didn’t make the process of falling in love with a heel easy — because the majority of shoe shops don’t carry my size in-store, and I’m not Smith or Porter who has a stylist to procure shoes on my behalf and introduce me to brands like Syro, Random Identities, or model Shaun Ross’ collaboration with United Nude. And while some stores and brands do have larger sizes for us Big-Footed Bitches (BFBs) online, I need to shove my hooves into the shoe before I buy it to be sure it hugs just right.
Thankfully, growing up working middle class introduced me to the world of Payless ShoeSource at an early age, and I knew the discount store carried BFB-approved heels. But with the footwear chain shuttering all of its North American stores earlier this year — and with a few more dollars in my coin purse — I’m still on the search for the perfect heels. My demands are simple: They’ve got to be cute, three inches or higher (let's save the kitten heels for the heteros), and make passionate love to my bunions.
Below, I reviewed three brands that carry my size in pumps. Maybe one of them will work well for your big ass feet.
Rancho Boots, $230
If you like towering over the competition, these 5.5” heeled boots (with a 2” platform) are perfect. They’re wonderful for those days when toppling the patriarchy causes your feet to swell. The squared toe in patent leather provides room for my bunions to breathe with a deft nod to S&M styling. These are purely for showing TF off, a fact that both RuPaul Charles and Sam Smith know as fans of the label.
Available at shopsyro.com.
14th and Union
Alysa Slingback Pump, $40
I would wear a heel every day if my ankles allowed me to be so brave. That means I need shoes that can be both casual and formal depending on what the day asks of me. These pumps are perfect for that and more with a slingback buckle providing much needed support and comfort. The heel is about 3.5”, which truly is light work, so they’re great for standing or sitting.
Available at nordstromrack.com.
Tabi Calfskin Boots, $980
These ankle boots, which are no doubt a classic but recently have been particularly trendy, are the most supple and smoothest I’ve ever worn, thanks to the calfskin inner and goatskin outer. Unfortunately, the shoe’s signature split-toe, which gives off a Shania Twain vibe, is a no-go for my bunions. These have a just-over-1” circular heel, perfect for a BFB that brings their own height.
Available at maisonmargiela.com.
This article appears in Out's 2019 Fashion Issue covered by Janet Mock and Dan Levy. The issue will be available on newsstands on October 1. To get an advanced look at the issue, preview other articles here, or view it on Apple News+, Kindle, Nook, and Zinio beginning September 24. Grab your copy by subscribing now.