In January 1984, Nina Totenberg and Clem Taylor discussed whether jogging shoes were set to replace high heels. This is my favorite quote from the piece: 

Today, the jogging shoe has eclipsed the Walkman as the commuting accessory of the ’80s.

I highly recommend listening, if only to hear the price of Nikes in 1984…and the reaction of “unidentified men on the street” along with Fran Lebowitz, who errs on the side of high heels — I think. (Of course Fran Lebowitz is in this piece.)

This is one of those pieces that is better listened to than read. But if you’d like to read the transcript, it is below. (Shout out to our transcription volunteers and the NPR Library.)

[NINA TOTENBERG?] HOST:  It wasn’t to avoid driving on slippery roads, but a new commuting phenomenon began about 4 years ago in New York City. Before long, women around the country were catching on. Today, the fashion trend threatens to become a classic as thousands of American women trade in their high heels for jogging shoes to get to and from the job.

More on the story from NPR’s Clem Taylor.

CLEM TAYLOR: Most historians trace this cultural phenomenon all the way back to 1980. That year, a transit strike forced thousands of New York City commuters to find alternate means of transportation. Some took cabs or formed carpools; others wore roller-skates or rode bicycles. Those who could, walked to work.

Many women discovered that negotiating New York City sidewalks during rush hour in 3-inch heels was punishing to their feet. For some, jogging shoes were the last line of defense against sprains, tears, pulls, calluses and other orthopedic or podiatric nightmares.

But when the eleven-day transit strike was settled, a funny thing happened. Women refused to part with their Adidas and Nikes.  


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: They’re more comfortable.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Saves your good shoes.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: They’re nylon with leather trim.


PAUL TAYLOR: They walk in with jogging shoes and then they change into more dressy shoes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Waiting on the train and your feet hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: Well, when you’re spending 80 to 120 dollars on a pair of shoes…

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: Eighty dollars for a pair of shoes? You gotta be out of your mind!

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: And you have to walk in pitiful, pitiful roads.

TAYLOR: I think it’s fine if their feet feel good.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #7: 35 dollars on a pair of Nikes?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #8: Concrete ruins your shoes!

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #9: It’s a little bit more - more wise.

DR. PAUL TAYLOR: It’s definitely becoming a trend and it’s one that we’re really happy to see.

CLEM TAYLOR: Dr. Paul Taylor, a Washington, DC podiatrist, is a member of the boards of American Running and Fitness Association, the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine and is team podiatrist of the Washington Bullets basketball team.

Taylor says 60 percent of his patients are women with foot problems related to the shoes they wear.

DR. TAYLOR: The shoes that women will wear most of the time, particular those that work in offices, is the pump, which is a shoe that has a higher heel, a very narrow and a very crowded toe box, and walking for any distances in that pump type of shoe is bound to cause somebody problems.

TAYLOR: Wear pumps, warns Taylor, and you pay a price. The list of ailments is long and unattractive.

DR. TAYLOR: Things such as hammertoes and bunions and bursitis on the bottom of the foot.

TAYLOR:  Even broken bones and bad sprains. Why not avoid these maladies, says Taylor, and walk to the office in jogging shoes? Surely not because you think it looks stupid.

HELEN GURLEY BROWN: I think it’s perfectly reasonable.

TAYLOR: Editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine and note footwear authority, Helen Gurley Brown.

BROWN: Women have done outrageous things to their bodies in order to be more beautiful or “acceptable,” in quotes. We wore tight merry-widow corsets all through the ’50s that really took your breath away. We’ve worn bras when we didn’t need to, not to mention girdles; we were encased in this rubber that, again, left you practically breathless.

OK, for years, forever we’ve worn spike-heel shoes and I’m not willing to throw those away because they’re sexy, they’re adorable, and they make your legs look longer and it’s just a lovely, sexy, spicy image.

But walking around on them is sheer disaster. So, how perfectly sensible that finally we decided to do our walking in flat-heel shoes and when we get where we’re going, we can change into the other kind. What could be more reasonable?

TAYLOR: Brown says she hasn’t found a man yet who doesn’t endorse the idea, which is probably just as well.

BROWN: If they said anything derogatory, I would hit the first man who did that, because men wear flat-heel shoes everywhere. If one single one of them said, “Oh, I hate to see a woman running around in her Keds or her Adidas,” I would just say, you silly idiot, but I don’t think men are complaining. I think men are just too wonderful and too sensible to do anything silly like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It’s not sexy at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I’m saddened for the men that have to watch it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I would prefer to see a nice sleek shoe.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I don’t find them very attractive.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Something in lizard, preferably.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I like women in high heels, sort of sport up the calves a little bit. I find that a little bit more attractive.

TAYLOR: But don’t get the impression that only men find the jogging-shoe look inappropriate.

Fran Lebowitz, a woman, a writer, and an expert on just about everything, finds it particularly offensive.

FRAN LEBOWITZ: Jogging shoes, first of all, look terrible no matter what. They look terrible on their own just sitting on the floor, and they look particularly horrifying with a skirt.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #10: People had made comments like “Oh, you wear those?”


LEBOWITZ: I would like to arrest them and I think they should go to fashion prison.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #10: It looks tacky.

LEBOWITZ: They would be compelled to be with a number of other people wearing the same thing, and they would have to see what it really looks like.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #11: I really don’t like doing it.

LEBOWITZ: Don’t these people have mirrors?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #11: Mainly because I don’t like the way it looks with my attire.

LEBOWITZ: I think it has something to do with liberalism.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #12: I just don’t think it looks very feminine.

LEBOWITZ: I don’t think you’re going to find many Republicans wearing these. These are certainly people who drive Volvos, unquestionably. This is a Volvo look.

CLEM TAYLOR: Writer Fran Lebowitz. Now, for the really bad news: for those considering the switch to jogging shoes, for the trek to work, please, exercise caution.

Podiatrist Dr. Paul Taylor says the change to jogging shoes has actually resulted in injury in some women.

DR. TAYLOR: These women, prior to changing, were wearing a high heel. Their body adjusted to the high heel and the calf muscle became very tight in order to do that, and they quickly changed to a flat shoe and this caused some stretching and actually some tearing of the fibers in the calf muscle and the Achilles tendon.

TAYLOR: Podiatrist Dr. Paul Taylor. In Washington, this is Clem Taylor reporting.