My Life in Shoes

I love books. I know they have gone the way of the Dodo what with ipads and Kindle’s and all manner of e-reader, but I will always prefer the old-school, hard-bound, colorful dust-jacket-dressed brick of an object that I can display around my flat, color coordinated of course.

To me they are individual works of art to admire and touch and pick-up again and again, not fleeting dots and dashes of data to be consumed on screens and forgotten about.

I just added a brand new book to my growing fashion and design library, “Women from the Ankle Down – The Story of Shoes and How they Define Us” by Rachelle Bergstein. It’s her first book.

When I get books, I rarely read them from front to back, but rather, skim through to look at the pictures, take in bite-size chunks of words and then settle in, if I ever get to the settling-in period. Many of my books are more photos than prose, so this format works well.

With this in mind I crack open the book to page 242 and begin to read. Here, she writes about being a teen in her grunge phase, loving her 20-eye oxblood Dr. Martens boots that took forever to lace, and how even now, she keeps them as a relic of her rebellious youth. She goes on to say this:

“…I began to really understand what it is about shoes that makes them so beloved. They provide an incomparable opportunity for self-expression; they allow the wearer to define herself, and then to communicate that information to the world.  There’s no greater feeling than knowing exactly who you are, or perhaps, who you want to be, at any given moment, and then feeling confident that your choices are your own. Shoes, in an easy, non-confrontational, and-I should note-non-revolutionary way, give us that chance every time we get dressed in the morning. They’re unique from the rest of one’s wardrobe because clothing choices are still, by and large, dictated by dress codes and social mores, but footwear-with the wide array of perfectly acceptable options available-allows for a flash of personality even in the most inflexible environments.”

A few weeks ago, I attended the graduation ceremony of the San Francisco State University Class of 2012 marketing department. A dear friend was their commencement speaker, and as one of her guests I was seated in the front row. I became mesmerized by the parade of shoes peaking out from under the shiny purple graduation gowns. From the ankle up, everyone looked the exact same. From the ankle down, heels were propped up on towering stilettos, ankle booties and wedges. Many girls were pitched forward awkwardly, having not-yet mastered to art of walking on 5-inch heels. Many were on trend in nude pumps, elongating what little leg was visible. Some were more daring, opting for bright red or lemon looks which popped against the violet. A few were sensible in flats. But all told a story.

Would the girls in trendy-but-safe nude pumps become “suits”: account executives or brand managers, the more conservative positions in marketing? Would the girls in red or yellow who “got” the great contrast with purple become art directors and designers? Would the few in flats who not only refused to teeter treacherously high but also spend heavily on high heels become CFOs?

When I graduated college I wore boring blue pumps.  It was the mid-80s, after all, and it was all about power suits and shoulder pads. Odd considering I was always more daring in my attire. Yet on more reflection, it makes perfect sense. I was scared. I was still living with my parents, the job market sucked, and I needed to take my shit seriously.

Thank god I’ve graduated.

I can’t wait to start reading “Women from the Ankle Down,” because it really is true: shoes tell the whole story.

Nostalgia women's shoes

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