A Right to Shoes
Every young girl loves the tale of Cinderella. Who wouldn’t want to meet a handsome, charming prince to sweep her off her glass-slippered feet? Once this early bit of fairytale fetishizing is taken on board, the message is clear get the right pair of shoes, and everything you could ever possibly want is yours.
Binding the feet of Chinese women has been outlawed now for over a century, but the surviving, exquisitely crafted silk shoes made to fit a bound foot of some three inches in length hold a horrifying fascination. Women were forced to take tiny trotting steps, and men were captivated.
However, a woman’s obsession with shoes has little to do with pleasing men, and everything to do with asserting her own sexual allure. Remember the last time you went shopping and hated everything? Or everything you tried on hated you? Or worse still, nothing fit? The average woman owns around twenty pairs of shoes at any one time, and nothing lifts an outfit like a brand-new pair of shoes to update it.
The eroticism of the high heel didn’t start with the stilettos of the 1950s. Roman sex workers were easily identified by their shoes. High heels and platforms were also readily encouraged by medieval husbands, who were well aware that no matter how lovely they looked, they inhibited their wives from getting around too quickly and potentially straying elsewhere.
Heels have been the friend of the petite woman for centuries. The diminutive Catherine de Medici embraced heels to give her the confidence and an impressive hip sway to compete with her husband’s much taller mistress. The equally short Mary Tudor also donned heels to compete as a queen on a European stage dominated by kings. The wealthy men and women alike came to be, quite literally, well-heeled, and shoes as fashion items became ever more competitive. The Victorians who else? Enjoyed the fillip of a high heel that emphasized the arch of the instep, as well as other curves elsewhere. Their skirts may have been long, but the shoes were still the thing.
Although 1970s feminism advised us to ditch the high heels and burn our bras, post-feminist power dressing of the 1980s and 1990s allowed us to reclaim the heel and still have it all. Our relationships with shoes are close and personal ones. While there are few other items of clothing we’d willingly wear that have the potential to pinch, chafe, or blister, shoes aren’t among them. Count the number of pairs of shoes you own that are strictly “car to bar,” or that you can’t even wear to sit down in without wincing. The number is probably around a quarter of your shoe wardrobe.
And yet in a world where women are constantly made to feel inadequate too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too anything shoes are a great equalizer. If you’re not a size zero, you might find the media fat-shaming you on a daily basis, and if you are, you’re just as likely to find Internet blog warriors thin-shaming you for your “perfection.”
Shoes are always there for us, as flamboyant or plain as we like from ballet flats to staggeringly high heels and everything in between—all within any woman’s grasp. A classic pair of heels will never be out of season or last year’s cut. We might take gentle leg-pulling over our shoe obsession, but the high of buying a new pair of shoes persists long after leaving the shop, especially if you find that three or four old outfits are renewed by them. For any number of reasons, shoes aren’t a want—they’re a need.