Wednesday, July 6, 2005

They’re edgy. They’re wedgy.

And they’re sending fashion-forward women tipping and toppling like Star Skater Barbie.

The “wedge” — with cork, wood or woven bamboo elevated soles — is the height of summer footwear.

Wedges range from $58 at Nine West to designer Isabel Fiore’s $300 straw platform sandal, which measures in at a staggering 5 inches tall.

Women falling for the fad are suffering from sprained ankles and other injuries.

“I’ve had two patients in the last 10 days who have slipped off their wedges,” said Dr. Rock G. Positano, a celebrity podiatrist in New York.

The doctor said both patients were young women who had sustained twisted ankles. He is advising patients who wear the wedge heels to do so for short periods of time, at a pool party or the beach, and not to attempt to stroll for blocks in them.

“And I’m afraid, with vacation time coming up, many women are going to take them for sightseeing. They’re just asking for trouble,” Dr. Positano said. “These shoes affect a person’s ability to know where the ground is. They don’t have that mechanism anymore. There’s no stability.”

Allison Purmort, sales assistant at Washington’s recently opened Intermix boutique, modeled a pair. “I fall off my Missoni’s. But they’re really high. They’re 5 inches.”

On M Street NW, the Kate Spade store has sold out of all its $295 “Cabos,” with a 4-inch-tall basket-weave heel. The style comes in black and pink, and customers don’t blink when their feet are painfully inverted almost to a 90-degree angle.

“Some people felt uncomfortable,” senior sales representative Holly Conner said, “but we never had any returns.”

Nearby, at Georgetown’s trendy shoe shop Sassanova, “it’s crazy,” saleswoman Kim Wood said. “They’re flying off the shelves. They’re the only thing selling.”

How hot are they? Ask Lina Asseo, who was spotted in her wedges, a gift from her granddaughter. “She picked them up for me at the store. And she’s only 6.”

“Everyone seems to be wanting them now,” said Tamme Calys, sporting a pair of straw 4-inch-high wedges at a sidewalk cafe in Georgetown. “I got these a season and a half ago. Before they were hot.”

Fashionistas credit New York designer Michael Kors for the look, a revival of the 1970s sky-high platforms. Betty Grable also made wedges popular in the 1940s.

The style elongates the leg and turns stumpy into statuesque. With today’s long designer jeans, flouncy miniskirts and longer peasant skirts, the shoe fits — sort of.

“I wear them, but I definitely trip over myself all the time,” said Angie Carpio, a 19-year-old assistant manager at the boutique Betsey Johnson on Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest. “I don’t know how to walk in them. They’re heavier than normal shoes. I feel like I’m wearing anchors. I just stumble over myself.”

Devotees say the absorbent material makes cork sandals more comfortable than stiletto heels. “I wear them all the time,” said Ashleigh Franks, 21-year-old hostess at the Peacock Cafe on Prospect Street in Georgetown. “They’re so comfortable. I have five or six pairs.”

On boardwalks and beaches, in bars and bistros, are women paying the price for the peak of fashion? “They’re horrible for your feet,” said Dianne Tubridy at the boutique A la Lelia in Old Town Alexandria. “That’s why I don’t wear them.”

Besides sprained ankles, the shoes also can cause lower-back problems. Podiatrists point out that the human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles, which must support 100,000 pounds of pressure for every mile walked.

High heels invert the foot, making for a precarious journey. “There’s nothing wrong with fashionable shoes,” Dr. Positano said. “You just shouldn’t plan on doing a lot of walking in them.”

Meanwhile, Christina Roman, 16, was keeping her balance strolling down M Street atop her 4-inch wedges.

“I don’t fall on my face, which tends to be a good thing,” she said.

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