As a woman who highly values her feet, I am delighted to hear that “ugly” shoes returned to fashion this summer.
I’m an equal opportunity shoe lover. Expensive. Cheap. Practical. Foolish. My shoe fetish has nothing to do with sex. It’s genetic. Like my high blood pressure and high cholesterol, I inherited a proclivity for splurging on shoes from My Mother. I am short, but My Mother is Tiny. At 4’ 10”, she wears a size 4-1/2 shoe. Actually, she wears a size 5-1/2 shoe, because she can’t find her real size. In the 1950s, size 4-1/2 was used as the “sample” size. She bought her shoes at a “sample shoe” store in an office building in downtown Detroit.
In early spring and early fall, she received postcards announcing that the sample shoes for the coming season were ready for sale. We took the bus downtown and walked to the building, got into one of those funky old-fashioned elevators with a gate and a lever to drive the car up and down the shaft. We would walk into an office crammed, floor to ceiling, with boxes of shoes and boots; pumps, flats, sandals, slingbacks, and mules, in spectacular colors and buttery soft Italian leather.
Mom didn’t skimp on our shoes, either. Although she made our clothes, she insisted that shoes of quality were a good health investment. We got new patent leather shoes at Christmas and white shoes for summer, along with a pair of sandals, and, eventually, a pair of sneakers. When we started school, we got school shoes. Being the 1950s, I wore saddle shoes in the primary grades with my fluffy dresses or shoes with a perforated design in the toes and an ankle strap. I always envied the girls who had shoes whose ankle straps could be swiveled behind the heel so that the strap didn’t cross the top of their foot, the same reason that I hated t-strap shoes. My Mother didn’t like that, so I used to trade shoes with my girlfriends for a few hours each day.
More than anything, I think that good shoes were a good mental health investment.
When I remember holidays and special events, I think of shoes. For Christmas 1966, I had a pair of gold suede flats with a little gold buckle that I wore with a long-sleeved Kelly green cotton velveteen dress with ecru lace trim. So mod. My junior year in high school, I wore “baby doll” shoes, black leather Mary Janes, to go with my “baby doll” dresses. In college, where tramping between classes in 0° temperatures required long underwear, I started collecting boots. I remember having a pair of brown lace-up boots that I wore with a camel-colored maxi coat. Even my wedding shoes weren’t just plain white; they were peau de soie (silk) with embroidered flowers on the toes.
If you keep shoes long enough, they come back in style. Square toes and chunky heels from 1968 have returned at least twice in my lifetime. I saw that flare-legged pants are making a comeback. They, of course, require a chunkier shoe. How do I know this? Remember, I’m 63 years old and have seen this trend like a revolving door. The designers get you to buy their wide-legged pants and longer skirts and chunky shoes and sweaters for a few years, and, just when you get to feeling good about yourself, hiding beneath layers of bulk, they bring back capri pants and leggings and crop tops and stilettos and send you running to the gym — or running for dessert in despair.
See these two vastly different shoes? Comfortable classics, yet a decade apart in age, they are still my favorites. The black suede Stuart Weitzman with the square toe and chunky heel was purchased c. 1992 and was worn in two different plays, masquerading as shoes from the 1930s and 1950s. The pointy-toed Ferragamo was purchased c. 2002. It’s been busy the past few years with pencil skirts and peg-legged pants.
I read that Queen Elizabeth II expressed her displeasure at the navy wedge-heeled shoes (also Stuart Weitzman) favored by her granddaughter-in-law, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. Kate, of course, also popularized the ridiculous trend of nude platform stilettos a few years ago, an easy trend for a woman surrounded by bodyguards and her own prince to keep her on her feet. Someone should send a memo to Lady Gaga’s bodyguards, because her platforms are unbelievable and trip her up all the time when dodging the papa-paparazzi.
The Daughter had a pair of the nude patent leather platforms, which she wobbled in, like Bambi on the frozen pond, all the way across a stage for her college honors convocation. I was torn between admiring her fashion sense and trembling in fear that she would fall. Of course, every other coed was wobbling in a similar pair, so I was not the only parent having palpitations.
I, myself, have more beige shoes and sandals than any other color for two reasons; supposedly, nude pumps make your legs look longer (eg., ballet shoes usually match tights) and neutrals go with everything in every season. My short legs need all the lengthening they can get, but I’ve already fallen off shoes once in my life and don’t want to ever again spend two months in a leg brace. And, yes, I own my own share of restaurant shoes. You know. Those shoes that make your legs look fabulous but that you can only stand to wear from the house to the car to the restaurant to the car to your house with, maybe, a nerve-wracking side-trip to the ladies’ room?
Today, I’m more likely to wear a plain dress and an interesting shoe to set it off, like jewelry; an Eileen Fisher sweater and skirt with a suede boot with wedge heel. “Don’t look at me; look at my shoes.” Of course, one man I dated found my boring, tent-shaped Eileen Fisher dress alluring, so I’d probably better go easy on the combination. Too much excitement could probably kill a guy so old that he finds sedate clothing and ugly shoes a turn-on. I need a guy who appreciates me so much that he’ll take me to a restaurant worthy of restaurant shoes. Now, THAT’S a turn-on to me!
Keeping in the spirit of “ugly” shoes, described as Birkenstocks (which never went out of style in some Baltimore neighborhoods, which tells you everything you need to know about Charm City), I bought these Dansko sandals. You may recall that I fell off a ridiculous pair of platform sandals and fractured my right patella, three years ago. These are designed by the folks who know how to make shoes that doctors and nurses wear on their long, grueling shifts, so I hope they know what they’re doing with shoes for aging and fragile fashionistas who can’t afford another fall. They cost about as much as some of the chic designer styles.
While my deteriorating knees and pocketbook have slowed my shoe “investing,” thanks to a now-defunct local outlet store, I’ve stocked up on enough diverse designer rejects from Saks and Neiman Marcus to keep me rotating styles at the whim of designers until one of my pretty little feet is in the grave, so, who am I to complain? Life is good (mostly). Soli Deo Gloria!