In last week’s Fashion Friday, I posted a picture of a plaque on Boston’s Freedom Trail, commemorating the moment Christian evangelist D.L. Moody found God in a shoe store. I posted this with a series of snarky comments, including “Religious experience in a shoe store? I know the feeling!” and “Were they Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos?”
In response, arensb asked:
Could someone please explain to this stereotypical guy what the deal is with shoes? I don’t get it.
My first reaction was to think that this was a silly question. I mean, isn’t it self-evident? It’s obvious why shoes are so interesting! They’re interesting because… because… hmmm. Good question.
(Side note: I love it when people question things that to me seem self-evident. It makes me re-examine my assumptions, and dig really deep into them.)
I’m going to say right off: What I’m about to say here is pretty much harebrained speculation, personal opinions pulled entirely out of my ass. There may be some sociologist who’s studied this question… but if there is, I don’t know about it. This is just what I’ve pulled out of my brain after pondering this question over the last few days.
Okay, Disclaimer out of the way. Why are so many women who care about fashion and style so fascinated by shoes? Here are my ponderings:
1: Feet and legs are sexy. Beautiful and interesting shoes show them off. ‘Nuff said.
(I’m not talking specifically about foot and shoe fetishism here, btw. That’s an interesting topic in itself, and it’s obviously related… but it’s a different topic.)
2: It’s relatively easy to find shoes that fit. Yes, there are some women with very small or very large feet who have a hard time finding shoes. But it pales in comparison with the number of women who have a hard time finding clothes that fit. If you’re interested in fashion and style and want to express yourself through your appearance, and you’re fatter than average, or thinner than average, or taller, or shorter, or bustier, or more flat-chested… finding clothes that fit can be a hassle at best, a frustrating nightmare that can drive you to tears at worst. But chances are excellent that you’ll be able to find shoes that fit. So just about everyone can get into them, and have fun with them. (This is especially true for fat women: cool shoes are many a stylish fat woman’s best friend.)
3: Shoes create versatility: they’re a small item that can make a huge difference in an outfit. Take your basic little black dress, for instance. If you wear it with classic pumps? Ballerina flats? Mary Janes? Outrageous, super-trendy platforms? Four-inch stilettos? Cowboy boots? Combat boots? You’re going to get a very different look. (And that’s not just true for LBDs: it’s true for jeans, suits, mini-skirts and tights, pretty much anything.)
Remember what I wrote a few weeks ago about jewelry, and how in the discrete combinatorial system of fashion and style, jewelry is a cheap way to multiply your options? Shoes are like that as well. If you have six awesome dresses and three cool pairs of shoes, you have eighteen outfits. Get one more pair of shoes, and you get twenty-four outfits. You do the math. (It’s a little more complicated than that, since not all shoes go with all dresses… but the basic principle still holds.)
It’s sort of like what hats did for decades, and indeed centuries, before they fell out of favor. In fact, I’m now realizing that hats fell out of favor at about the same time that hemlines started to rise and shoes started to become more visible and more important. I’m now wondering if there’s a connection. (Where’s that fashion sociologist when I need them?)
4: Shoes affect how you stand and walk. That’s most famously and obviously true for heels, of course. Heels, and the way you stand and walk in them, emphasize femininity and female sexuality. Heels, not to put to fine a point on it, make you switch your hips and thrust out your boobs and stick out your ass. Which, if that’s what you’re going for, is awesome. And I’ve mentioned that shoes show off sexy feet and legs, right? (And then, of course, heels limit your mobility… which enhances a cultural image of femininity in a much more sexist and fucked-up way.)
But this “how you stand and walk” thing isn’t just true of heels. In boots, for instance — a topic worthy of their own post — the way I stand and walk is confident, assertive, even athletic. In boots, I have a strong stance, an easy stride. Boots — flat- or low- heeled boots, anyway — give an air of freedom, of being ready for anything: ready to walk for miles, climb a fence, run for a bus, run from the cops, kick someone in the balls, dance all night, fuck all night. Just by how you stand and walk in them. (Okay. Boots definitely need their own post.)
5: Self-fulfilling prophecy #1: As is the case with so much of fashion, a huge part of why people are interested in shoes is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lots of women are interested in shoes… so lots of designers respond to this demand by making beautiful and interesting shoes… so there are lots of beautiful and interesting shoes on the market… which makes lots of women more interested in shoes.
6: Self-fulfilling prophecy #2. And there’s another form of self- fulfilling prophecy at work that’s also very common in fashion, in a somewhat more conformist way. Lots of women are interested in shoes… so lots of fashion magazines and fashion icons and other fashion trend-setters get very fixated on shoes… so women who want to be fashionable and trendy get on the shoe train.
Or, if you want to see it in a less harsh and negative light: Lots of women are interested in shoes… which gives other women the idea, and gets them paying attention to shoes when they might not have done so before… which, in turn, gets still more women paying attention to shoes. There’s definitely an element of that for me: I was never that interested in shoes (apart from boots) until I started paying more conscious attention to fashion and style. Once I did, I saw shoes everywhere — and while a lot of what I saw was clownishly stupid (boy, there are some pig-ugly shoes in the world), a lot of it was beautiful and exciting, and made me want to play, too. I’m a social animal, and if lots of other people are paying attention to something, I’m more likely to pay attention myself. It might be food, or a predator, or a potential mate! (Any or all of which could apply to shoes. Tasty, sexy, predatory shoes. Yum.)
I’m sure I’m leaving stuff out here. Thoughts? If you’re interested in shoes — why?