Seven months into their relationship, Redditor throwawayrelationshr and her boyfriend stood next to each other barefoot for the first time.
“I’m 5’6, and I thought that he was 5’7,” she shared in the r/relationships subreddit last year. “We often lay around the apartment without shoes on. We were standing when we were cooking, and I realized he’s about 2”-3” shorter than me. I went and looked at a pair of his shoes and they have a built-in 3.5” heel. He’s been wearing lifted shoes this whole time! Turns out he’s more like 5’4". It makes me uncomfortable that he is so insecure with his height that he would wear them.”
There are two main categories of height-increasing footwear that create an optical illusion of enhanced stature: Removable insoles like Shoelifter, Lift Kits and MAGIC insoles, which increase the height of any shoe by a couple of inches; and elevator shoes like Taller, Tallmenshoes.com and Don’s High-End Elevator Shoes, whose fortified heels and augmented insoles add up to 5 inches of height.
“It’s quite a range of people that find an interest in this kind of footwear,” writes Allan (Don) Donnelly, creator of Don’s High-End Elevator Shoes, in an email. “Some say they help them fit in with the rest of the world; some wear them for wedding photos because their bride is in high heels. Others use them to get noticed at the bar.”
“This goes back to medieval plays, when star actors would be in raised shoes to appear taller on stage,” explains Derek White founder of Lift Kits, which claims to be the original creator of height-increasing insoles. (Their motto: Life’s Short. You Don’t Have to Be.) According to the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Persian horsemen did the same — donning heels to be viewed as virile and masculine. Similarly, Louis XIV wore 4-inch heels to augment his 5’4” stature — and lord over his subjects from above.
These days droves of A-listers have admitted to artificially increasing their height with the help of lifts and elevator shoes, including Bieber, Piven, Downey, Cruise, Bruno Mars, Kevin Connolly, The Weeknd, Vin Diesel, Will.I.AM and Seth Green.
“We take care of pretty much all of the shorter side of Hollywood,” White says.
“We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel,” he adds. He says he simply identified a generational marketing gap. “There was a time during the late 1960s and 1970s when it was acceptable for men to wear platform shoes. Then it became unacceptable, and there wasn’t an appealing solution for many years.”
A model and former regular on The Hills, White was in Miami working a fashion show when he caught another model duct taping five insoles together and stuffing them in his shoes. “I said, ‘Hey man, what you got going on there?’ He responded, ‘Shh, it’s my little edge. It makes me taller.’ I thought, That’s a great idea. Why doesn’t somebody develop a product like that? I went to China to make some prototypes, and it’s taken off organically ever since.”
Jennen Ngiau-Keng, a 5’7” professional violinist in Australia, thought about being taller every time a female musician in heels towered over him onstage. He knew elevator shoes existed, but he thought they were bulky and looked like a pair of PT Cruisers strapped to his feet. “I wanted to create a brand that designed classy, elegant men’s shoes that also made them taller,” he says.
He did so with the $50,000 he saved from winning violin competitions as a kid.
“Each time I won prize money, my mum saved my winnings for me,” he tells me. He used that to build the initial inventory for his new company, TALLER shoes. To minimize expenses, Jennen warehoused the shoes in the family rumpus room. “Many customers would come to our house to buy shoes,” he explains. “It was an odd start to the business, but it was the only way I could save enough to eventually open my first store in Melbourne.”
Donnelly, meanwhile, makes Don’s High-End Elevator Shoes by hand in the South Asian tropics while selling most of his products to North American men. “One of my very first customers was a famous male model in the ‘80s who used the money he made to build a business empire. He told me if it wasn’t for those shoes, what he has now would never had happened. So I guess every little helps when it come to helping a man have a break.”
Stateside, the elevator-shoe market is dominated by Tallmenshoes.com, a family-owned business in Southern California founded in 1996 that offers 600 different styles for any occasion — sandals, sneakers, dress, casual, boots, etc. “The dress shoes are the most popular,” explains Managing Director Mike Chen. “Many of our customers wear them every day. Once you get used to these shoes, you can’t go back.”
Of course, things get tricky when it comes to kicking them off. “Our position on lifts and elevator shoes is nuanced,” says Jonathan Bennett, co-author of Size Doesn’t Matter: The Short Man’s Handbook of Dating and Relationship Success. “We think a little is fine but too much can create problems. For example, a lot of guys look at these lifts — which can go up to 4 inches — and think, Here’s my solution! But people are remarkably attuned to this stuff. Short guys are already accused of being insecure, so if someone picks up on that it’s just another dig about a guy’s lack of security.”
Especially because, as Bennett points out, the goal of a date is to eventually take your clothes off — shoes included. “Unless you do the deed in your shoes, she’s probably going to figure it out you’re pretending to be 5’9” when you’re actually 5’4”. It makes you look insecure, and it’s somewhat deceptive — a lot of women will have problems with the dishonesty.”
Rather than strapping on stilts and stumbling toward the fences, Bennett coaches his short clients on improving their fashion in other areas. “Horizontal stripes make you look shorter and pudgier, so avoid those,” he notes. “Avoid big patterns on your shirt which make you look smaller.” There are times when he does encourage lifts, though. For example, adding a couple inches for a job interview might be a good idea, he explains, since studies have shown taller guys make more money and get in higher positions. “Highly visible, one-time occasions — public speaking, TV appearances, etc. — are cases I would advise wearing height-increasing footwear. But on a regular basis, there are just too many downsides.”
As you’d expect, all of these height hacks are a regular source of intrigue in the r/short subreddit. “I find it interesting that it is socially acceptable for women to wear heels but not for men to wear shoe lifts,” notes eastandwestt, who’s looking for advice on whether he should start stuffing his shoes.
Don’t do it, cautions Shiver: “They just become a reminder of your height every time you take a step because you can feel them when you walk.”
And yet: People do treat you differently when you wear shoe lifts, encourages About_Five_Seven. “Whether it’s out at the bar/club or just at work, both men and women take me more seriously with an extra inch or so. Bumping from 5’6” to 5’7” or 5’7” to 5’8” is going to take you from short to shorter or from shorter to on the smaller side. Then if you’re 5’9” that extra inch literally takes you from shorter than average to taller than average. I actually had someone call me tall with the lifts in. No one older than 10 has ever called me tall before.”
As for throwawayrelationshr, she wants to be clear that there’s nothing wrong with short guys — she just prefers tall guys. At 5’7”, her boyfriend is the shortest guy she’s ever dated. “If we do break up, it will be because of those shoe lifts. He’s a decent guy and I like being with him, but last night when I was looking down at him, something felt different. And now if I ever do look up into his eyes, it will just feel fake.”