High stepping

High heels came down the runways with practically everything at the New York fall-fashion openings: with short skirts, long skirts, pants. The time of day for which the clothes were intended didn't seem to matter, nor did their degree of dressiness. It was high heels all the way.

With designers endorsing 21/2-inchers so emphatically, prospects for those whose calves begin aching in anything more than a medium heel were looking bleak.

But now comes word from the Footwear Council, the organization that represents the leading shoe manufacturers, that lower heels are in, too. Regardless of what designers presented on their willowy models, the shoe industry has more down-to-earth ideas. Cuban, wedge, and half-inch flat heels are well represented in the season's footwear scheme, along with spikes - at least for daytime wear. Evening styles nearly always are the high-heeled variety.

Does this mean that the urban practice of wearing running shoes when walking to work, then switching to pumps after reaching the office will be phasing out?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Shoe man Jacques Cohen offers an alternative to the jogging shoe with his collection of City Walkers - a practical group consisting of flexible suede oxfords and cuffed ankle boots, featuring nonskid soles and reinforced heel lifts.

The most playful city sneaker around is Norma Kamali's vulcanized-rubber pump trimmed with suede. Perched on a sturdy but perilously high heel, it has holes for laces that can be wound around the ankle or up the leg. It's clearly for the fashion experimenter, but no one could say it isn't practical.

Two looks will work with fall's oversized coats: elegantly tailored suits and dresses, and sweaters and pants. Sophisticates can opt for those high heels that are set back and are somewhat chunkier, in mainly V-toed pump styles (some have Mary Jane instep straps). Or there is a considerable selection of updated classics: laced pant shoes, ghillies, and wing-tip oxfords among them.

Big news in the overall picture for autumn, according to the Footwear Council , centers around texture. Two or more different leathers may be combined in a single shoe. Besides snakeskin, suede, and matte or polished calf, there are stamped and printed leathers, pressed patent, and embossed suede.

Color is also more in evidence. In addition to basic black and gray, earth tones are used in bi-color treatments. Rich tones of cobalt, amethyst, and fire-red are combined with black, too, in striking effects.

Anyone who is dressing in the latest Japanese manner can start from the ground up. The approved footgear to wear with this new avant-garde clothing is a low, flat boot in the approved colors: black, gray, or indigo. Sturdy enough to weather a rice paddy, these boots generally fasten with thongs or are wrapped with leather stripes. The approved legwear: squashed-down wool warmers or socks, layered over tights.

Speaking of legs, they are not always so thoroughly bundled up. Although ribbed or cabled stockings make appropriate accompaniments for tweedy sports clothes, more decorative looks are in order for most occasions. Plain nude nylons now seem mundane, compared with the fashion effectiveness of colored, patterned, or textured hosiery that complements this year's clothes.

The sheerest and prettiest of the new fanciful hosiery is reserved for evening. Heels are at their highest for this time of day, and shoes more in the glamour tradition than they've been since the dance-mad '20s and '30s. Rhinestone heels, silver kid-trimmed T-straps, silk moire pumps, and lace-covered sandals are among the possibilities. Black is tops, but blue, purple, and red are high-stepping colors, too.

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