John Benge is a self-described "shoe slut." He collects them and can wax poetic about his favorite styles and designers. It’s like an addiction, really, and Benge’s shoe drug of choice? Tricky, sky-scraping stilettos in a size 9.
"I like a high arch, slender heel with a very straight back."
It’s not every day you see a man – not dressed in drag, mind you, and sporting a lush beard – in the kind of heels that could be perilous for many women, so it’s not surprising that the life drawing and painting model attracts a lot of stares when he is out wearing his stilettos.
"I make a point of keeping the beard, it acts as great counterpoint to the heel wearing.
The beard defines me as a man in the most solid way possible. Even with heels on, I’m all man."
Benge says that it's mostly women who ask questions and comment on his heels. He tells Konbini:
"It bizarrely leads to one of the strangest reactions I get, which is women telling me in no uncertain terms just how 'hot' they find the heels and masculine look – which I put down as being an attraction to the confidence on show rather than the shoes or beard per se."
He makes no secret of his weakness for heels. Benge models his favorite pairs on Instagram. He says when he is not at work, he can be found in a pair of heels out with his girlfriend on the weekends. What draws this father to heels?
"That’s hard to pinpoint but I think it comes down to two things, the look – it’s the extension of the leg, legs look longer, they control and dictate movement more than flat shoes.
And secondly, the feel. I definitely enjoy the feeling of wearing them, the way they arch your foot, the pressure."
Benge isn’t a fan of gender-specific style rules. As far as he is concerned, heels have always been OK for men. Just check history, he says – indeed, heels were first created for men.
Benge shared his disdain for today’s stifling fashion codes for men in an op-ed for Metro where he declared that he didn’t "need Vogue’s permission to wear stilettos." His attraction to heels began to take shape when he was coming out of his adolescent.
"My burgeoning identity and sexual exploration really started in my later teens, which led to many adventures and gave me a broad appreciation for people and their interests.
It coincided with the explosion of fetish scene, drag, transvestism, becoming more prevalent in the media."
Benge believes fear, and a lack of "really nice heels" in men sizes, is what’s keeping most men away from an elevated heel: "There is an element of stubbornness to wearing heels, why not? Who’s to tell me what’s right and wrong."