Archive for the 'Shoes' Category

My Life in Shoes: Character shoes

September 18, 2008

Okay, a True Confessions Moment:

There was a time in my life when I longed for a life on the stage. I had been singing ever since an enterprising elementary school teacher figured out that this chubby little third-grader could sing harmony and stuck me in the middle of the choir, where I stayed for nearly 50 years. I came to dance much later, taking all sorts of dance courses in college and loving my hours in a ratty, drafty second-floor ballet studio, doing plies to “The Long and Winding Road” and other pop songs played by a wild-haired pianist. (Sigh…)

Although my size and vocal range generally limited me to community theatre character roles like Cousin Nettie in “Carousel,” Aunt Eller in “Oklahoma” and Katisha in “The Mikado,” I did manage once to starve myself down to a size nine, thus making me eligible for a role in the chorus of “Guys and Dolls.”

It was heaven. Fish-net stockings, false eyelashes, tap pants and “Merry Widow” bustiers! Hot-pink satin, fake fur and pearls for an honest-to-gosh striptease in the “Take Back Your Mink” production number! (I LIVED for the moment each night when we’d literally make the audience gasp!)

And character shoes, of course, those sturdy, short-heeled, Mary Jane-like black leather shoes that lend themselves to all sorts of stage roles. Take them to the shoe repair shop and they easily become tap shoes. I wore out two pair during my short-lived career as a chorine.

I wish I still had a pair. And someplace sassy to wear them. Anybody seen my false eyelashes?


My Life in Shoes: Cork sandals

September 12, 2008

Okay, enough serious posts for awhile. Time for some crap. After a summer-long search in department stores and shoe shops throughout the United States and the United Kingdom (and even on eBay), I finally found a pair of cork sandals to replace the shabby pair I “retired” in London. (Cute, eh? And only $20 or so on sale! Thank you, Bandolino and Macy’s!)

“Big deal,” you say? Not so, shoe lovers! For, despite the wanton whims of fashion over the years, cork sandals have been one of the constants of my shoe wardrobe.

I remember spotting my first pair when I was a high school senior. There they were, in a bedroom slippers display at the top of the rattly old wooden escalator at The Major Department Store That Is No More of my childhood. Like most shoes at the time, they probably didn’t come in any size larger than a nine, but since they were slides, they could kindly accommodate my size ten feet. And I didn’t care if they were bedroom slippers. I wore them everywhere until they literally crumbled under my feet.

I’ve more or less had a pair somewhere in my closet ever since. The beauty of cork sandals is that they are made of, well, CORK, which over time will mold itself to your feet until you have the feel of a custom-made pair of shoes. The sensuous joy of sliding your foot into a shoe that will fit only YOU is absolutely decadent. I’ve always wanted to have a pair of handmade boots, but my cork mules will likely be the closest I ever get.

There’s precious little summer left in which to wear them, but I’ll trot them out as often as I can. I even freshened up the old pedicure to show them off!

So, to celebrate me and my perfect sandals, please go put on your favorite, most comfortable pair of shoes. NOW.

UPDATE: Oh, shoe lovers should not miss Bill Cunningham’s NYT photo essay on shoes at Fashion Week. Now I know how those girls manage to endure those four-inch heels!

My Life in Shoes: Famolares, and me

August 7, 2008

Sometime during the Seventies, I must have had five pair of shoes in my closet that had unusually wavy soles: Famolares. They were Italianate chic and were featured at the major department stores (okay, this was Dusty Corner, remember?) and in all the fashion magazines of the time. I actually saw a Famolare STORE during my first visit to NYC sometime around 1980.

I proudly owned and wore two pair of three-inch platforms and a super strappy style that were fun and extremely comfortable. I walked all over Europe in them during an extended honeymoon, and they were especially dear during my first water-logged pregnancy, when preeclampsia meant they were the only shoes that fit. (Not the platforms, no.) But Famolares gradually faded from view, along with gauze dresses, tie-dyed tee-shirts and fringed jackets.

You’re right: gauze dresses, tie-dye and fringe are still around — and so, apparently, are Famolares. I found them online, but in a different incarnation: still comfortable, still wavy, but somehow a bit boring and middle-aged, like Hush-Puppies. And Mephistos. And ME. Not chic and definitely not Italianesque. ebay has some listings that promise vintage Famolares, but even they don’t seem to have the European panache I remember.

According to the Website, I wasn’t the only one who was impressed by the unique design:

Famolare shoes are on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and the Cinncinnati Museum of Art.

(Famous wearers of Famolares have included Paul Newman, violinist Isaac Stern, Gregory Peck, Walter Matthau — and msmeta, of course.)

The site still extols “Famolare’s patented 4-wave design: It makes walking in the city as natural and enjoyable as walking in the pine forest. Anatomically shaped for perfect fit and comfort, the resilient sole absorbs shocks to heel and arch, rolling the foot forward in a graceful, extended stride.”

Yeah, sure, that’s what I remember, but what happened to my platform heels and little strappy shoes? “Gone with the Wind, Miss Scarlett,” along with my baby-doll dresses, wedge haircuts, Levi 501s, ballet flats, riding boots, capri pants — Oh, wait. They’re still around, too.

And so am I. We’re all just, well, older.

And as a reward for making it to the end of the post: This fun little diversion, courtesy of Fabulous After 40, is the latest on shoes in The Big Apple.

My Life in Shoes: Boots

July 31, 2008

Too many serious posts lately. Must lighten up. So I’ll blog about one of my less-noteworthy obsessions: Boots, preferably ones that fit.

Aside from the little plastic fur-topped boots of my childhood, my first serious encounter with boots came in high school and college in the ’70s. Frye boots, to be specific. The ultimate in hippie-chic in my little corner of the West. Square-toed, blond leather and indestructible. When I finally found a pair that I could squeeze my size-tens into (no small, er, feat), I wore them obsessively, even though they were snug and gave me blisters. (Why didn’t I just opt for a pair of men’s boots? They were almost exactly the same style…)

I never did wear white go-go boots, not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t find a pair that would accommodate my massive calves. I later learned to pull on boots and gradually inch them up over said calves for a reasonable fit, but by then, go-go boots were out — saving me money and probably years of embarrassment.

I still like boots, and I saw them everywhere when I was in London. The students found some really colorful and kicky Wellingtons in all colors and patterns on Portobello and Camden Roads that served them well in the rainy spring weather. And I’ve already blogged about my favorite British import, my trusty Doc Martens.

Boots really merge fashion and practicality, and they can look good with jeans as well as a little black dress. And so I was particularly pleased with the pair I recently found on sale in the dead of summer at Century 21 in NYC. The shoe gods were kind that day.

If you google or do an eBay search for boots, you’ll get a ton of thigh-high, plastic, stiletto-heeled options that never seem to make it out on the street, at least during the hours when I’m awake and at the locations where I hang around. (I lead a dull life.) So boots must be an obsession for more than just the likes of little old me.

My life in shoes: Crocs

June 12, 2008

I brought a pair of black Crocs with me to London, and I haven’t worn them once. While they are rivaling flip flops as the standard casual footwear in my corner of the world, the Brits appear to eschew them. The only Crocs I’ve seen on the street have been on children and German tourists. Darn. I find them incredibly comfortable and versatile, and I’ve seen a lot of cute sandal and slipper-type variations of the original style. They even have a style with medium-high heels! How cute is that? And all those colors! I wonder, how environmentally friendly are they?

Update: Just found a pair of these on sale at Von Maur in Columbus. Hooray!

Your Girl in London: Glamour

May 17, 2008

Victoria Beckham and British Vogue aside, the Brits do not seem to have the same sort of appearance hangups as we Yanks, particularly the women. I was surprised to see Dame Diana Rigg appear on an afternoon talk show looking like she’d just come in from working in the garden, unashamedly wrinkled and grey, and indifferently dressed. She wouldn’t be allowed look like that on Oprah or the Today Show. I watched a special on the long-running British soap Coronation Street, and marveled at the amorous adventures of Eileen Grimshaw, played by Sue Cleaver, one of several characters who are definitely middle aged and not particularly glamorous. The only American character I could even compare her to was Roseanne, and she certainly wasn’t much of a television sex icon.

Fashion on the street runs the gamut, high chic to grunge. I ran across one little ancient lady in the Tube station in a suit, scarf, hat, pin and white gloves, and many of the older Brits at the theatre matinees are conservatively attired, but most everyone else is casually dressed, often with a bit of European flair. Scarves are a big accessory, with the more texture, the better. Skinny jeans are big, as are leggings and longish shirts or dresses. Lots of ethnic influences are evident, too, particularly in the jewelry, and I’ve admired a lot of fun little swingy jackets. Big bags/purses still reign.

Most British women have thickish ankles, indifferent hair, less-than-straight teeth — and absolutely radiant skin, which just about makes up for everything else they might be lacking. I’m constantly astonished and more than a little envious, although even my desert-parched skin has perked up noticeably since we arrived. I just wear mascara, mostly, and it’s a relief. (We should put humidifiers in every room!)

It was still chilly when we landed, and everyone was in boots, but now that the weather’s warming, the trainers, flip-flops and sandals have started to appear. Flats are universally preferred, particularly on the Tube, since you can’t “mind the gap” or navigate the escalators very well in platforms or stilettos. I’m personally reluctant to go out in sandals much because the city is so dirty (I have the same problem when I go to New York), but no one else seems to mind.

I haven’t been to Oxford Circus and Regent Street yet (the “centre” of shopping), so I may have other observations when I get back. I need to find a “mother-of-the-groom” dress, and I know beforehand that I’ll have to go one size up to get anything to fit!

My Life in Shoes: How many?

April 19, 2008

I, of course, begin this post with an homage to the patron saint of shoe collectors: Imelda Marcos, who is rumored to have had more than a thousand pair when she and the Old Man fled the Philippines in 1986. (“Come on down!” cried Robin Williams in a Filipino accent at the Academy Awards that year. “Some of these shoes have never been worn!”) You go, girl! However, raping and pillaging the country to acquire them was probably a little over-the-top.

I’ll admit to 50 pair. Or so. The Spouse might quibble with that figure, but he’s long since resigned himself to my shoe obsession. (Just as long as I don’t leave them all over the house.) You see, one can never have too many pair of black sandals. Formal or casual? Heels or flats? Leather, plastic or cork? Open- or closed-toe? It’s important to have OPTIONS.

It wouldn’t take too many sessions with a shrink (in fact, try maybe five minutes) to get at the root of my jonesing for shoe leather. In junior high, when such things became important, there WERE no shoe options for girls with size nine feet. (See my saddle shoes entry below.) Mother made sure I knew it was MY FAULT that I couldn’t find anything but old-lady shoes. (How could I have let my feet get so big? I mean, they were much bigger than HERS!)

I read once that women with big feet made Elvis nauseous, which meant I would have had him gagging up his bunions. I mean, when I did find a pair of black patent leather Mary Janes (which were hot in high school) that actually fit, they made me look like Peppermint Patty! And so I shuffled around for years, desperately hunting for real-girl shoes and hoping no one would notice my gunboats, which unfortunately didn’t STAY a size nine.

Fortunately, with young women growing bigger and taller every year, the options for us Clementines (“…and her SHOES were NUMBER NINE…”) are better. But I still have a hard time walking away from a pair of shoes that are CUTE and that FIT.

You see, it’s my own little scarcity mentality. I’m hoarding for a future when foot-binding comes back into vogue. In fashion, stranger things have happened…

My life in shoes: Platforms

April 15, 2008

Platform shoes, all the rage in the Seventies and again today, looked even better in the Thirties (think film noir) and in the French courts of the 18th century (think curly wigs, tapestry coats and ridiculous shoes). Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Why we continue to wear these potential ankle-twisters is beyond me, but there you go. My 5’2″ friend wore her black platform sandals so continuously that her hip flexors popped out of place and she had to have physical therapy. (But she was taller! And fabulous!)

The pair pictured above resemble a pair of white platform sandals I wore for years, although mine weren’t quite that cathouse skanky. (These look like the ones worn by the reverend’s wife, who finally took a shotgun to him rather than wear them again.) I ultimately redyed mine (to cover up all the scuff marks) and wore them at my wedding. They were my “something old.” (The Spouse was 6’3.” He was the “something new.”)

I haven’t owned a pair since.

My life in shoes: Saddle shoes

April 11, 2008

(This will become an ongoing attempt to chronicle my life by my feet, or rather, what was on them at the time.)

My shoe obsession may have originated sometime during junior high when I realized that all the Smart Young Girls in our dusty corner of the world didn’t run around on SIZE NINE FEET. The evidence of that rule existed in all the shoe stores in the surrounding three counties, which only offered nurses shoes, orthopedic grandma shoes, cowboy boots and flip flops at that size. Oh, and saddle shoes. So, saddle shoes it was, five days a week, for the entire school year. And saddle shoes WERE NOT COOL. The sight of them still makes me break out in acne.


April 4, 2008

images-11.jpeg With the economy in the tank, perhaps it is time for me to blog on one of my favorite topics: thrifting.

When we moved to Chicago, I became a trailing spouse holed up in the top floor of a Victorian three-flat with two manic little boys and little money. I met a great woman, Susan, at church, who always seemed to have it all together. Like me, she was a refugee from the West, but seemed to have this whole Chicago big-city thing figured out, and she and her two children always looked smashing.

“So,” I asked her hesitantly one day, “Where do you buy your clothes?” I was expecting her to name Marshall Fields (RIP, sigh…) or some other pricey place, but I was surprised. “Amvets!” she said cheerily, and proceeded to take me shopping with her. Read the rest of this entry »