There was a time when shoes meant nothing to me.
Growing up, we had, basically, three pairs of shoes each: a pair of black patent leathers for Sundays, a pair of school shoes, which might be Mary Jane or loafers or saddle Oxfords and, in the summer, a pair of Keds gym shoes.
I wore black shoes with everything outside of school… and so it was no big deal to me when, after I grew up, to wear black shoes with everything too.
But my girlfriends saw that I needed training. One didn’t wear black shoes with everything, they told me, just like one didn’t wear bell-bottomed jeans in the 80s, even if they were pressed and creased…
And so began shopping excursions where my girlfriends taught me the fine art of shoe shopping. They challenged me to try different colors (to go with your different outfits, for goodness’ sake!), different styles (you can’t wear the same style in 14 colors, Susan!) and different designers.
It was a whole new world!
I thought about my transformation today because I saw a colleague of mine wearing a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes. I recognized them because of the red soles; closer examination with my now fine-tuned eye for shoe fashion revealed that they were in fact the real thing. I had to chuckle, because there was a time I would not have noticed nor would I have cared.
It has occurred to me that a girl has to have diversions, and shopping for shoes is about the best diversion I know of, other than reading. There is a joy in finding just the right pair of shoes, at, of course, the right price. My obsession is with dress shoes, but I have girlfriends whose obsession is boots, others crave sneakers, and others, sandals. We don’t need these shoes. We want these shoes.
The earliest shoes appeared to have been created in the Middle Paleolithic period, about 40,000 years ago. During a period of time known as the High Renaissance, women wore slipper-type coverings over their feet, usually made of brocade or some other fabric. Because the slipper was not waterproof, the women (and men) had to wear what was called a “patten,” which was an overshoe made of wood with a raised sole, so the wearer’s feet would stay dry. Women also wore what were called “chopines,” which were again, overshoes made of wood, sometimes very high. These chopines were often so high that the women who wore them often had to have their servants (or friends) help them walk and stay upright. Despite the discomfort, and a periodically disappointed suitor who thought he was marrying a very tall beauty, only to find out that her chopines made her much taller than she actually was, the obsession with shoe fashion continued.
Some chopines were reported to be 30 inches high! They were eventually outlawed, as they were thought to have caused too many women to suffer miscarriages.
Ancient artwork on caves in Spain show pictures of men with animal skins wrapped around their feet, and people who lived in very cold climates, it has been learned, sought to cover their feet as well.
But those were functional shoes…we women, it seemed, took shoes to an entirely different level!
At the end of the day, does it make a difference what we have on our feet? In some developing countries, women wear no shoes at all, or, at best, they wear flimsy flip-flops. Clearly, people in poor and developing countries are more aligned to the original purpose of shoes: to protect the feet.
But it seems that as early as the Renaissance, or maybe sooner, women became fascinated with footwear, a fascination which has only increased with time. Many of us are just plain self-indulgent as we address our “issue” with shoes. I try to justify it by noting that my standard price of shoes is about $59.95; in other words, I am not extravagant or reckless in my shoe shopping. That makes the obsession better, right? Probably not.
I suppose I could go back to wearing black shoes with everything, like I did coming out of my youth, but having this obsession is a lot more fun. After all, a girl has to have diversions …
A candid observation …