Update, October 14, 2019: The research upon which this story was based has been retracted due to “methodological weaknesses and statistical errors.”
Cue a collective sigh from women everywhere: a new study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior proves that men really do find women in high heels significantly sexier.
Study author Nicholas Gueguen in the department of social behavior at the University of Bretagne conducted three experiments using French women identically dressed in black suits with straight skirts and white shirts. Most were also all brunettes: because previous studies showed that men were more likely to approach blonde women over brunettes and ask them out on dates. The only differences between the women were their shoes.
In the series of experiments, Gueguen dangled the women as science bait in front of unsuspecting men.
First, the women—wearing either black flats with no heel, black shoes with a 2 inch heel or black pumps with a 3.5 inch heel—approached several people and asked them for assistance. The woman switched shoes after soliciting every 10 people.
When a 19-year-old woman approached men between ages 25 and 50, asking for their help with a survey on gender equality, she garnered the most responses when she wore the highest heels—83% of the men she approached agreed to spend three to four minutes answering her questions, compared to nearly half as many, 47%, when she wore flat shoes. Not terribly surprising.
But would women react the same way to fellow sisters in high heels? To find out, four women asked both men and women to participate in a food survey about what they ate. Again, men were more likely to respond when the women wore higher heels—82% agreed to do the survey when the women wore 3.5 inch heels, compared to 42% who did when they wore flats. But ladies didn’t fall for it. Only about 33% of women on average said yes to the survey request, regardless of the heel height.
Why were men more receptive to the women in high heels? To test the obvious attraction hypothesis, Gueguen told the women to find “marks” and walk ahead of them, then drop a glove. A whopping 93% of men chased after the women when they wore high heels to return the glove, compared to 62% of those who did when she wore flat shoes. And while women were also more likely to track down the high-heeled women than those wearing flats, the rates were much lower—52% for the heel wearers and 43% for the flats wearers.
For the grand finale, researchers wanted to see if high heels could actually make men more likely to pursue the wearers as mates. They strategically placed women wearing different heel heights in three bars, seating them at tables near the bar where their shoes were visible to those standing at the counter and perusing the field. On average, it took men only 7.49 minutes to approach women wearing the high heels. For those wearing flat shoes, it took nearly twice as long—13.54 minutes.
All of this confirms that men tend to use physical attributes as a way to gauge women’s attractiveness and to find potential mates. It’s not exactly a revelation; Gueguen found in a previous study that female hitchhikers with bigger breasts get picked up more often by male drivers. But now, science gives some credibility to the seemingly illogical (and unhealthy) choice to endure pinched toes and vertiginous heights. “As a man I can see that I prefer to see my wife when she wears high heels and many men in France have the same evaluation,” Gueguen writes in an email response.
What exactly is so sexy about high heels? Gueguen blames (or credits) the media for its strong imagery association between stilettos and sexiness. And yes, higher heels can change the way a woman walks, making her hips sway a bit more as she negotiates walking at a more precarious height, but in the study, even women who were seated and wearing heels were approached by more men. And Gueguen’s follow-up studies, in which he showed men photos of women wearing heels or flats, confirmed that there was more to the attraction than a woman’s gait. “The results showed that high heels were associated with greater sexiness, overall physical attractiveness, breast attractiveness, beauty, attractiveness to other men, and willingness for a date,” he writes. Now, whether you want to be approached or left blissfully alone, there’s a shoe height for that.