Monday, September 7, 2009

Cruel shoes*

posted Mon, 26 Jul 2004

So is there a workshop somewhere where the misogynists hang out and design women’s shoes? Every time I shop for shoes, I am reminded that whoever designs them must hate women. I visualize a room full of bitter men – and maybe even bitter women – who are exacting their revenge on the women who wear shoes, which, in the US, is pretty much most of us.

It is almost impossible to find an attractive pair of shoes that is also comfortable. You’d think that both those qualities would be standard specs – that by definition, one would not design either ugly or uncomfortable shoes. But no, these qualities appear to be almost mutually exclusive.

My favorites. The Red Shoes.

I wear high heels to work. I also walk. Therefore, I need high heels that do not cause me pain. But to reach this goal, I have to search far and wide. If I were willing to wear hideous shoes, I would have no problems. Ugly comfortable shoes abound. They are thick and clunky and provide good arch support. (They are also very postmodern, favored by the on-purpose-ugly movement that I noticed was so prevalent among the German tourists I saw in South America.)

But attractive comfortable high heels – that’s another story. The pretty shoes hurt. They are designed to be worn either by masochists or by women who are carried everywhere, then kick off their shoes right before being ravaged by their foot-fetish lovers.

I have tried to wear the pretty high heels – the ones with the high, spiked heels that make the legs look long and sleek – with the slender straps that break if any stress is applied to them. I can’t. They hobble me.

They serve the same function that foot binding did for the Chinese and that bustles and corsets did for the 19th-century American woman: they restrict a woman’s movement and her freedom – literally – and keep her too busy to think about more important things, like running for Congress. (Kind of like the current demand that we women weigh about 20 pounds less than our bodies want to weigh.)

There is a girls’ high school swim team that works out at my gym in the winter. (More on them later – they are a huge pain in the neck.) These girls are gorgeous and rich (it’s one of the ritzy private schools in town) and they aren’t allowed to wear pants to school. So they wear skirts and dresses and these impossibly high, insubstantial, gorgeous shoes. In the winter, they wear strippy little high-heeled sandals with no pantyhose. I don’t play in these shoe leagues, but I have heard the names Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnick mentioned. I think these girls wear those shoes. They go to New York to have their hair highlighted – that’s the sort of money we’re talking about – so I guess they can afford really expensive shoes that cost half as much as my current monthly mortgage payment.

Anyhow, they look great. I envy them their ability to wear shoes like that. I am also envious that they don’t need arch support. But I do laugh to myself and think, “Enjoy it now, girlies, because you are destroying your feet and you will pay for it in the future!” I also watch how they eat and know they will not look like they look now at their 20-year reunion. I take some small comfort in all of this.

Back to the shoes. I was at Stein Mart looking for a simple pair of black flat shoes that would look elegant with pants or with a skirt. Harpo and I are going to Colorado this weekend. The rules for flying non-rev on Harpo’s airline are that the passenger must be dressed in ‘business casual’ clothing, whatever that is. At my company, it apparently means ‘about to go to the beach’ clothing, at least at the VP level. But I digress.

Harpo interprets that statement to mean no sandals. In principle, I agree with him: sandals are not appropriate at work. But I think for flying, there could be some nuance in the sandal rule: there are sandals that should stay at home but there are also nice sandals. I am not, however, the one to challenge this rule, so I will abide by it.

So I was trying to find some cute black flat shoes that I could wear with a skirt. (No jeans allowed, either. And I refuse to wear khakis. My butt already looks big enough, thank you.) The only black shoes Stein Mart had were either old-lady ugly or high and unwalkable (think about running between concourses in Atlanta) or – and here is the newest addition to the Shoe Hall of Shame – those shoes with no backs.

You know someone got promoted over that one. “Let’s take out half of the raw material of the shoe and then charge more for it! We’ll just tell them it’s the style!” So now we have all these shoes that have no heel – nothing to secure the shoe firmly to the foot – nothing to prevent the sole from slapping against the foot as the wearer walks past your office, slap slap slap, sounding like she is wearing cheap flip-flops. (Kerry shoes! I love that the Republicans slap flip-flops together to symbolize him!)

Those shoes are UGLY. Do not be fooled by the claim that they are fashionable. Tattoos are fashionable. Cigars are fashionable. They are also UGLY. Someone has just done a great job of marketing these things, but they are all UGLY if you really look at them.

Yet there are no other shoes to be found. There are pretty, excruciating shoes, or ugly comfortable shoes or ugly shoes without heels. There is indeed a vast conspiracy at work here. Other than the shoe manufacturers, I don’t know qui bono from all this. I thought capitalism and free markets were supposed to give consumers what they wanted. Well, I don’t want these shoes! Maybe I’ll start a shoe business. It looks like that’s the only way I’m going to get the shoes I want.

*With thanks to Steve Martin

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