My Life In Shoes; the 9 Stages
I have a friend with a shoe fetish. I have several friends with the same condition. In fact, I have it myself.
During a recent culling of wardrobes and drawers in preparation for down-sizing I began to contemplate “why do women love shoes so much?” or is it just a self-perpetuating cliché?
Surely in the 21st century there are more important things to occupy our minds than the trivialities of what’s on our feet?
To answer my own question what better way than to analyse MY relationship with footwear from day one.
1. My earliest shoe memory…..
To recall the most distant memory of any kind of shoe I have to go back to my parents’ bedroom, tucked away in a brown shoe box behind a knitting bag at the bottom of her wardrobe, my Mom’s black suede, sling back, kitten heels. I’d be about 4 years old when I started trying them on in secret. I remember thinking how thin and fiddly the ankle strap was for my 4-year-old fingers and how they always smelled like tobacco. As I grew older I realised this was because my Dad kept his best going out clothes in this wardrobe and back then he was well addicted to Senior Service and Park Drive unfiltered cigarettes. I can still smell that sweet, cherry like aroma if I think hard enough; a mixture of smoke and Old Spice I daresay.
2. My first ‘cool’ shoes…..
The first pair of memorable shoes which belonged to me were from Asda. Circa 1970 and my Mom came home with them one dark, damp autumn Friday afternoon, nonchalantly put them on the table (in a box no less) and told me to open them.
I can remember thinking they were the coolest things I’d ever seen in my entire 6 years and I kept asking her “they’re for me?” because a) I hadn’t even asked for them but I loved them immediately and b) how did my Mother get to be so cool without me telling her how?
I’d describe them as blue suede, dessert boots but they had a crepe sole which meant I could run really, really fast and I’d also be able to climb the cemetery wall without slipping. They had orange stitching and beige laces. I totally loved those shoes (but not as much as my trendy Mom!).
3. The ones that got away …..
Shift forward to 1974. I think my Mom must have liked Twiggy because she had my hair cut so short I looked like a boy (I suspect it was more about being fed up with sorting out my tangles and plaits than a style statement). This fact was driven home when I was called ‘son’ on several occasions by complete strangers. To make up for my frequent tears she gave in and bought me a pair of yellow plastic hot-pants. I kid you not. Complete with a white, ruffled down the front lace blouse. I know this really happened because not only did she indulge me in this hideous outfit but she also sent me to school in it for that year’s school photo. I must have sensed she was living out her inner Mary Quant vicariously through me because the straw that broke the camel’s back came when I asked for a pair of white, lace up, over the knee PVC boots – think Nancy Sinatra. But to this day, and just like Twiggy, I can’t resist a pair of boots.
4. My first ‘grown up’ footwear…..
Still in 1974 (this appears to have been a good year) and I am gifted a pair of red patent wedge sandals for my 10th birthday from my Brother. He didn’t actually buy them or wrap them (we weren’t big on gestures in our house) but he did give my Mom £10 and she fetched them from Dolcis. They were open toed and in my mind that meant ‘grown up’ and I wore them to death.
A bit later that year my Brother came up trumps again (still no idea why he was being so generous). Off we went, me and my Mom, to the top, top footwear shop in town. In the days when feet were measured and sales staff were ….. let’s just say think ‘Are You Being Served’. This time my size 3 feet were adorned with Leonard Neasham tan leather, short riding boots. I was 11 by now and I can recall them costing £25. It was the last thing my Brother ever bought me. Sadly, a few months later I was thrown from a horse I wasn’t familiar with and I stopped riding – but those boots sure were shiny and gave me a very impressive, almost military click as I walked.
Into adulthood and I could fill a book with shoes and boots stories. But I started to think about why I recalled some of them and not others. Cost is one, as in ‘was I mad’ at one end and ‘what a bargain’ at the other. But also nostalgia. Memories of where I’d bought them, worn them, ruined them, lost them and even grieved over them.
5. My most glamorous shoes…..
The 1980s was a decade of excess; shoulder pads, patterned tights and perms to name a few. Guilty on all 3 counts M’Lord. On my part there was definitely an-over indulgence in shoes during this time of being mortgage free and free from every other responsibility.
Fast forward to 1985 and the year I turned 21. Let me describe possibly the most exquisite items I’ve ever owned. They were pewter leather court shoes. All leather. Everything. Even the lining. They had a black suede toe cap onto which were sewn several diamantes which sparkled when I walked. They were by Gina and I got them from a ladies’ boutique (Empress) owned by my ‘still’ friend Georgina Jelly. They came in a Gina box with a Gina dust bag (my first ever dust bag). They cost £69 which was more than I earned in a week. And they also came with a matching bag (who’d ever heard of such a thing). I was determined to get that bag (another £50 required) and eventually I did. I caressed and looked after those shoes like a baby – I even walked home in bare feet one night so they’d be protected from the snow – Barcardi had probably numbed my feet (and my brain). But strangely although I remember very clearly the joy they gave me I can’t remember what happened to them. And so, they’ve also become my most ‘grieved over’ shoes. I periodically search for them online like some long-lost school friend I’d like to reconnect with.
6. My most abused shoes …..
In the same decade, I succumbed to the over excess and indulgence and this time the subject was a pair of red Roland Cartier court shoes I bought around 1986 and took with me on my first ever girls holiday to Lanzarote. I wore them on a day trip somewhere in the north of the island to go pot-holing. Since I happen to be completely claustrophobic I have no idea why I would have agreed to this. And having agreed to it, at some point I must have decided court shoes were a good idea. Memories of pot holes have long since disappeared but I do recall seeing the shoes in the bin later that day – looking more fraught than court.
7. My most appreciated …..
Footwear doesn’t have to be glamourous/stylish/expensive to be cherished. And so, I must pay homage to my trusted Salomon walking companions who have been with me since 2001. And to be quite honest, have endured more than you could reasonably expect from a close friend.
We began our relationship in Nepal, trekking up and then back down the Annapurna mountain range in sub-zero temperatures. These were my ‘back at camp’ shoes. They also travelled with me to the Great Wall of China, the central highlands of Vietnam and the rain forest in Brazil. They’ve never complained. Their owner has. Lots. And cried. And now they live a semi-retired life in my garage. But I’ll never be able to part with them because they tell a poignant story.
I began walking/trekking in 2001 (for charity) after I’d fractured my spine in a fall. Never did the ability to walk feel so precious as when it was nearly taken from me. Over the years my charity work has raised several thousand pounds which has gone to national cancer and alzheimer charities. And in 2005 I set up my own charity (The Freetown Trust Fund) which supports orphaned children in Kenya and Sri Lanka.
These boots really were made for walking and like a much loved pet who has remained faithful, loyal, trusted and reliable they will never leave me. They have become a reminder to me that good things can come from tragedies/accidents/traumas. You just have to look for the positive, always.
But now for a more uplifting story.
8. My most complimented …..
The award for the most compliments goes to…………a pair of maroon patent leather boots by Finnish designer Pertti Palmroth bought in the winter of 2007 from a very stylish shop in Norwich with Christmas money from my Dad (he gave me the money, remember, we’re not big on effort in our family). I don’t want to ever not have these beauts in my possession and I dread the day they malfunction – which is sure to be any time now given they’ll be 10 in December. Periodically I also search for these or something similar on the internet but alas, no luck so far.
9. My most precious …..
To finish this tale I have chosen my favourite designer, the ever stylish Jimmy Choo. Most often I’m merely drooling at his exquisite designs from a pc screen and very occasionally I have been known to slip a pair on at the Bicester outlet with my inner voice of reason mocking ‘yeah, in your dreams’ and ‘move away from the shoes’.
But in 2014, having received a very special proposal (of marriage, no less) I decided it was time and so my wedding shoes were ordered ahead of everything else and the whole day was designed around what I was wearing on my feet – no-one knows that so keep it quiet.
They were, quite literally, like wearing 5-inch strappy, sparkly slippers and they kept me afloat all day – or was that the euphoria? No matter, the fact is I love them and I will wear them forever. And just like my grieved-over Gina’s I splashed out on the matching bag – you see, I am a true girl of the 80s (minus the perm).
Coming back to my original question about whether we are in fact obsessed with shoes. I think in my case I certainly went through a phase where ‘much wanted more’ and I literally owned just short of 200 pairs. Over the years this has reduced and the pleasure I now get is more from the nostalgia linked to both the memories of the ‘shoes so far’ and the ones I still have at home.
If there was a message to take from all this it is, by all means go out and buy as many shoes as you desire but don’t measure your happiness by the number of stacked shoe boxes. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said: