There’s no doubt Ashley Maxwell-Lam is a stylish dresser.
With his blue suit, paisley tie and sunnies he looks every inch the city slicker as he struts through Sydney’s CBD to his financial services job high in a harbour-view skyscraper.
But it’s when you look down that the eyebrows really go up. Because Mr Maxwell-Lam has ditched the standard men’s office brogue for something altogether unexpected: a pair of six-inch, black patent leather high heels.
“It’s fierce. No one expects to see a six-foot-tall man walking in six-inch stilettos.”
This is not a one-off for charity, or to coincide with Mardi Gras — this is his standard office attire.
“When I decided to wear them at work, I told my (manager) and she said, ‘Let me just confirm that’s OK.’ It was her making sure I wouldn’t get in trouble, but I replied, ‘This is not me asking, this is not a request, this is me telling you I’m going to be wearing heels.’”
Mr Maxwell-Lam, who is a project manager for a major bank, said he hadn’t even donned a heel until a year ago. The reception has been mostly positive, but there have been some “looks of disgust” and there is one, maybe surprising, group who have reacted badly — gay people.
The 30-year-old moved from Queensland to Sydney last year following his father’s death.
“Sydney was my runaway. The last thing my dad said to me was, ‘You seem a bit lost at the moment, why don’t you move to Sydney to be with your people.’ He knew I was gay and it was his way of saying he supported me.”
Soon after he crossed the border, he saw a video on British TV of Yanis Marshall, Arnaud and Mehdi, a French trio of male dancers in high heels. An idea began to form.
Then there was one of the female executives at his bank: “She towered over the room and said her heels made her feel powerful. I asked her how could an object make you feel powerful? So she said, try them on and see.
“I did and exactly what she said rang true. I’ve never felt more empowered then putting on a pair of stilettos and walking through a marble lobby.”
While many woman would gladly ditch the heels, Mr Maxwell-Lam said he took to them instantly.
Nine pairs now grace his wardrobe. Four, in solid shades, are for work; a further five, which are more sparkly, for play.
“I always pair my belt with my heels. If I wear my grey slacks with a red belt I’ll wear my red shoes.
“At the weekend, it might be sparkly heels with black skinny-leg jeans and a muscle tee or purple ones if I’m going clubbing.”
Mr Maxwell-Lam describes his look as “dapper feminine”.
“I don’t want to be a woman, I love being a man. I just love the complete contrast between masculinity and femininity. It makes people question things, just because he’s gay and wears nails doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to use a chainsaw.” (Which he can and has used, he insists.)
For sure, he gets looks: “My mother taught me to be resilient — I have a thick skin. You have to take the good with the bad; you do get people who look at you with disgust but mostly it’s curiosity.
“A lot of people, especially young girls, will also stop me and have photos.”
Mr Maxwell-Lam said one senior manager wasn’t sure how to approach him about his new look.
“This adorable middle-aged, Aussie husband with kids who’d never been exposed to that. Now he knows how to deal with it he’s like, ‘Nice heels Ashley.’ I’m like, ‘Thanks mate.’”
While he doesn’t wear heels day in, day out, when he has new clients to meet he makes sure to slip them on. “It’s a huge talking point, an icebreaker,” he said.
Would he wear them back at home on the Gold Coast? “While I would walk through Sydney in the middle of the night, no problems, I wouldn’t do that on the Gold Coast. There’s a lot of testosterone up there.
“But the only time I’ve had bad situations is actually within my own community. (Some) gay people have said to me, ‘Why are you wearing a heel, that’s disgusting, you’re a man? You shove it down people’s throats, no wonder gays get bashed.’
“I reply, ‘You lost the right to judge me when you preened yourself within an inch of your life. You may look like a lumberjack but your tan’s out of a bottle, your eyebrows are plucked, you go to a barber twice a week and you’ve never touched a power tool in your life.
“Our emblem is a rainbow and yet they condemn others because they don’t align with their way of thinking.”
But there’s one place Mr Maxwell-Lam won’t be wearing his heels. Ironically enough, at the Mardi Gras parade on Saturday.
“I’m riding a unicorn and I just can’t in heels. And besides, it’s a 45-minute walk uphill dancing.”
Mr Maxwell-Lam is adamant he doesn’t don stilettos to shock.
“I’m not going to lie, I like the attention, it’s an out-there thing to do, but it’s not the reason why I do it.
“I don’t want to force people to accept me — it’s not an act of defiance or aggression. It’s because I love it. And if one queer boy or girl in my office sees me wandering around and thinks to themselves they can be a little more of who they are, I can walk out of this world with my head held high.”
This article was originally published on News.com.au