This is the first of a three-part series, based on Bad Shoes & The Women Who Love Them, on using your head when choosing your shoes.
Ladies, it's time to wake up and smell the nail polish. The fashion industry is selling us shoes agonizing to walk in, excruciating to stand in, torturous from the moment we contort our arches until the evening is over and--hallelujah!--we can kick them off and slip on our grandma slippers. And what are we doing? We are buying them and wearing them! Have we lost our minds?
You should know that people working in fashion do not wear the outrageous shoes they design. Kate Mulleavy, the designer of Rodarte with her sister Laura, was aghast when a New Yorker reporter asked if she wore the six-inch heels she sends down the runway. "Are you kidding?" she said.
It seems to me that designers are testing us. They want to see how far they can go before we protest. At this very moment, they are all wearing athletic shoes and laughing uproariously. They can't believe we are stupid enough to wear their absurd contraptions!
To wit: A Bloomingdale's ad features a single shoe--a Badgley Mischka gold metallic platform sandal with bondage-inspired straps, a platform, and a five-inch stiletto heel. According to Bloomindale's, this shoe is the "New Reason to Smile." Yes, the shoe oozes sex appeal. But how can anyone smile when standing on five-inch stilts and wearing narrow leather straps that cut into the tender skin of the foot like razor blades? Bloomingdale's knows this. But they also know that women will buy those Badgley Mischka gold metallic platforms and that they will wear them and then lie and say that actually, seriously, they are really, really comfortable - because being trendy means lying about how much effort it takes. Being trendy is about pretending you are not a fool, even though that is in fact what you are.
Despite the outrageous price tags, shoes this uncomfortable become disposable. Let's say you've just purchased a pair of insanely high platform peep-toes from Stuart Weitzman or Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin because you have a high school reunion tonight but you've gained eleven pounds over the last ten years and you need to look fabulous. On the one hand, you have justified to yourself that it's perfectly fine to spend $300 or $500 or $700 for a pair of shoes because they are sure to get you the attention you deserved but never received back in the day. But then you put them on--ouch! You start walking around--double ouch! From this point forward, all you can think about is taking them off and shoving them to the back of your closet. And in fact, at the end of the evening, after every woman who ever ignored or bullied you in high school has slyly asked you if your shoes are comfortable, that is what you do. You never go near those shoes again.
Those people at Bloomingdale's are very smart. We, apparently, are not.
You don't have to look too closely to see the hints that the fashion industry is snickering at us. On the cover of the April issue of Harper's Bazaar, Demi Moore stands at the top of a winding staircase in some crazy shoes. To be precise, they are Alexander McQueen's "armadillo" shoes--the shoes with ten-inch stilettos worn by Lady Gaga, the shoes that have been described as looking like "lobster claws," the shoes that some of the world's most accomplished models refused to wear down the runway last year because they were terrified of toppling and twisting an ankle. But here is Demi, leaning forward and feeding a giraffe - did I mention that the staircase is outdoors? - and using her other hand to hold onto the banister for dear life.
"At 45 years old, I feel like a tart in five-inch stilettos or wedges, but like an old lady in kitten heels," a Bazaar reader recently wrote in to the magazine. "What is the right height for my age?" I don't know any old ladies who wear kitten heels, but I just had to find out the mathematical calculation involved, so I continued reading. "There comes a time when super stylish shoes in extreme heights are just too much for women of a certain age," intoned Bazaar. "At 45, you can still wear those sky-high heels that are so on trend, but once you hit 50, adjust your heel height. Three-inch heels feel more appropriate." Let me get this straight: three-inch heels--high by any reasonable person's standard--are the shoe equivalent of mom jeans? Surely Bazaar is joking - right? Right?
In the unlikely event that shoe designers take these creations seriously, I strongly recommend they start looking into orthopedic designs as soon as possible. After all, high heels deform feet. "It is generally agreed that if you wore women's fashion high-heeled shoes with the narrow pointed toe box for up to ten years, you will end up with common foot deformities that are a direct result of the shoe," says Dr. Carol Frey, a leading researcher on the hazards of fashionable shoes on women's feet as well as an orthopedic surgeon in Manhattan Beach, California and a clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at UCLA. "These conditions include bunions, bunionettes, pinched nerves, ingrown toenails, corns, and calluses."
Like most women, you probably have no idea that wearing shoes with a shape that deviates from the shape of your feet is a recipe for disaster. After all, it's perfectly fine to squeeze your fanny into tight jeans. The worst that will happen is the sprouting of "muffin tops" above your waistband. You can change into a different pair of jeans, the muffin tops will disappear, and you can breathe again. Phew! But shoes are not jeans and feet are not love handles. If you don't take care of your feet the only shoes you will be able to wear are orthopedic nursing home shoes with Velcro fastenings. Says New York City podiatric surgeon Johanna Youner, "If you continue to wear a high heels, you will mold your feet into what a high heel looks like, but that is not what a foot is supposed to look like."
It's okay to wear crazy shoes once in a while for an hour or two. But don't let ill-fitting shoes cut off the circulation of blood to your brain. You don't want your feet to end up looking like an armadillo or a lobster claw. Especially not at the going prices.
Coming next: Part 2--The Sex Life of the High-Heeled Shoe