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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kick Off Those Heels!

It's a fact. In fast-paced Moscow 1999, more and more women are abandoning their beloved high heels for sneakers. The light, air-cushioned and shock-absorbing shoes are overtaking city streets and winning the feet of Russia's female population.

The sneaker trend knows neither age nor geographic limits among daring, comfort-conscious women.

"It's my style," Natasha, 44, said on a sightseeing trip to Moscow from Novosibirsk, Western Siberia. "I go everywhere with them, especially if I have to walk long distances. Each woman has her style and this is mine."

"I don't mind wearing them to go to the theater. People sometimes look at me, but who cares?" said Lyuba Savina, a 22-year-old lawyer from Nizhny Novgorod, Central Russia.

"I wear them to go shopping," said Fliura Zhukova, a 55-year-old pensioner on her way back from the market. "They are so convenient, and it's a shame to wear nice shoes when it's raining. These are cheap and they last a long time."

Those in the sneaker trade confirm there is an upswing in sales to female customers.

"In our spring 1999 order, 75 percent of all sneakers were for men, and only 2 to 5 percent for women," said Yelena Kulyabko, manager of Delta Sport, a distributor of Nike in Russia. "But for the spring 2000 order, 27 percent of our sneakers were for ladies. And even that is not enough."

Alexander Maslov, product manager of Reebok Russia, said Reebok sneaker sales have been increasing steadily ever since the company opened branches in Moscow in 1992.

ECCO-ROS, a distributor of outdoor and comfortable shoes, has also seen a surge in female customers. Advertising manager Grigory Avetisov said the psychology of buying shoes is changing.

"People are becoming more practical. They are starting to assess their outward appearance on different criteria," he said.

Comfort is the main reason some Russian women are giving up their heartless high heels - the culprit of so many foot aches and deformities. But what exactly started the trend?

The boom in aerobics and fitness classes four years ago was a catalytic event in Russian shoe fashion.

"It all started when New Russian men began doing sports," Kulyabko said. "Then their wives got into fitness, and after them, middle-class women. People then started to wear them to drive their car and run errands."

Most sneaker experts agree that women under 25 are the most faithful to sporty footwear, while most older women succumb to more feminine designs.

"Maybe it's the Soviet mentality. Older women don't dare wear sneakers outside. They think they are for men only. They don't even know there are models for women," said Alexei, a sales clerk at Moscow's Reebok store.

Indeed, not everyone is ready to trade in fashion for comfort.

As she was getting ready for her workout, Yulia Zhebrovskaya was shocked by the idea of wearing her sneakers in the street.

"No way! Not even to walk the dog. It isn't for city wear. I don't live in the United States," she laughed, referring to their popularity among Western women.

While foot fashion experts may debate about whether or not the sneaker trend is here to stay, they can all agree on one thing: High heels in Russia will never die.

"They reflect Russians' love for celebration, to be in a party mood," Moscow fashion designer Yulia Dalakyan said of the mysterious appeal of high heels.

Just ask a woman who handles feet on a daily basis. Yevgenia Ramonova, a pedicurist at Moscow's Sasha Mysin beauty salon, said one out of every three of her customers suffers from high-heel related ills, such as bunions and ingrown toe nails. "But they won't give up their narrow shoes," she said.

Men are doing their part to keep this love of the uncomfortable alive. "A woman in sneakers? I don't like that. To go to the dacha, to a sports stadium, fine. But in the streets, it just looks weird," 44-year-old businessman Yevgeny Voinik said.

Russian fashion designer Anna Rossa thinks that the Russian woman's devotion to high heels stems from the Soviet years of fashion deprivation, when heels were in short supply. "For many years under socialism, Russian women were deprived of luxury goods. Now they want to wear nice clothes, and that means nice shoes too," Rossa said.

But Tatyana Alyoshina, curator of the State Historical Museum, believes the attraction to spikes predates the Bolsheviks. The secret to Russia's devotion to high heels is locked up in the attics of tsarist history, she said, when a westward looking Peter the Great introduced laws on fashion. "Clothes had to be made and worn according to French fashion," Alyoshina said. "And that meant very large dresses and high heels."