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Shoe news: heel heights come down to earth

Not too long ago -- only yesterday, in fact -- modish feet were teetering around on 3-to 4-inch spike heels. Defying gravity to that extent obviously could not last. Although function and fashion are often at odds, they seldom remain so indefinitely.

In any case, as hemlines went up, heels were preordained to descend, and this has happened. Thus, the lowdown on footwear for fall is the flatter heel -- "low, low heels or no heels at all," according to the knowledgeable folks at the American Footwear Council.

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Traditional styles, the council's forecast also tells us, are more prevalent than experimental designs. They predict that the classic low-heeled tuxedo pump with tailored grosgrain bow will be one of the best all-round shoes to own this season.

While shoes are more down-to-earth (except for evening, medium is generally the maximum heel height), design is far from boring.Grained leathers and reptile skins, napped and shiny leathers in combination, woven textural effects, and color -- in pipings as well as asymmetrical and segmented treatments -- have all been imaginatively used. So have such details as fringes, topstitching, and appliques.

Heels on tailored shoes are sturdy without being clumsy-looking -- that is the good news. But just because heels are easier to walk around on, it does not follow that every new style is comfort personified.

Fashion giveth, and it taketh away -- and here comes the bad news. Many of the latest shoes (even penny loafers) have been given the pointed elongated vamp popularized by European high-fashion shoe creators. Although the design flatters the foot, it squeezes the toes to a degree that is far from ideal for trudging around museums or indulging in other forms of exerting footwork.

Although the slenderized vamp is a dominant trend, there is considerable variety in heel shapes. The underslung stacked, or socalled "cowboy", heel appears on fringed tongue, ghillie, monk-strap, and tailored tie oxfords as well as ankle boots. Geometric, faceted heels are replacing come on trendy styles. Pancake heels, mere slivers, are a fraction of an inch off the ground; graceful versions of the Louis heel on dressier shoes go as high as 2 1/2 inches.

The pump shows staying power, but since the plain-Jane conservative pump was beginning to look mundane, shoemakers have added several sprightly new features. Among them are bows -- at front or back -- scalloped edges, V-throats, and high "choke" cuts. The d'Orsay pump and open-toe and anklestrapped styles are around for late day. MEtallic wedge sandals glitter trimmings, and embroidered satins are some of the choices for big evenings.

In Western looks, the American Indian has recently been moving in on the cowboy. So certain moccasins and boots come decorated with beading and fringe. The boot to watch is the low-cuffed flat -- a near relation of the desert boot -- good with pants or culotte skirts.

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Innovations in the foul weather category -- the kind of footwear no one can do without include Golo's fleece-lined water repellent rain pumps. These come in bright colors as well as black and would presumably be worn with dark stockings (splashes up the backs of legs being something every woman can do without).

TWo new storm have been added to Andrew Geller's popular Sleekers line. This year's Western style has a lizard-embossed foot with a fancy-stitched top of a contrasting color. A new quilted nylon boot is stitched with a rose pattern -- an upbeat note when the weather turns downbeat.

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