When is a Shoe not just a Shoe?

This article, "Swept Off Her Feet," http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/06/swept-off-her-feet/, is jaw-dropping in multiple ways. 


This happens often when I read something from the New York Times. The people profiled in these articles often lead lives so different from mine that I find it difficult to grasp. Their wealth astounds me. It disturbs me. 


Let’s start at the start: “When is a shoe not just a shoe? Why, when it’s a love object, a fetish or an alternate dream of self, of course. Shoes, like handbags, have grown in cultural stature over the last few decades, sending out coded and not so coded messages about the women who wear them: I am sexy, chic, kooky; I can walk without falling down in four-inch heels; I can afford to spend gobs of money on elusive brands and esoteric leathers.”


The shoe as fetish. The shoe as status symbol. The shoe as an indicator of wealth.


Is that what’s happening when I take off my shoes? I’ve taken my status down a notch?


I was out with my daughter and, bless her, she had no concern when I decided I’d rather be barefoot as we walked the outdoor mall, Uptown. It’s not a big deal to go into Lululemon in my bare feet and I kind of forgot what signals I’m sending by the time we walked into Anthropologie. One of the sales associates came up to tell me she loved everything about my outfit (a black cotton maxi dress with a little black 3/4 sleeve sweater over it). Everything, she said, even in bare feet. I couldn’t tell if she just realized at the last moment that I was holding rather than wearing my shoes. Was I still an appropriate Anthro customer? Yes! because she’d assumed my feet hurt because of the shoes (which, of course, is totally acceptable -- fashion before pain, ladies!). Later, she showed me an adorable pair of flats that has just come in, and would I be interested? Cute, yes! Too stiff, though, like putting on a slab of wood. I’d be able to move from the hip and knee but nothing was going to happen in my foot, no movement there, once I’d strapped on those adorable flats. 


Something about bare foot is just incomprehensible. When I asked Chase at Lululemon how he was enjoying his Newton shoes, he said he loved them. He naturally strikes mid-foot and these shoes gave him a spring and made him feel faster. Fun! He asked about my shoes and I said barefoot. Then we talked about minimalist shoes and it was clear when I said barefoot, he heard minimalist. I couldn’t possibly really be running without shoes. 


For sure, there are places I don’t want to be barefoot. Sticks and stickers are so prevalent in some parts of the path that I can’t go one step without pulling something off my feet, so, yeah, I wear some kind of shoe. The chip and seal road is too hard for me feet now. I need something pretty smooth, like the bike path, so, yeah, I wear some kind of shoe there too. Some of the time, though, I’m running bare. People’s reactions are funny, as if I’m talking about walking on the moon, something so clearly impossible and crazy that most people couldn’t be expected to consider it. 


So, back to the article. One pair of shoes, priced at over a thousand dollars, has heels 6 and a half inches tall. Even the saleswoman admitted they’re like walking on stilts and the woman trying them on was teetering. Isn’t that a deal killer? If the price didn’t stop her, wouldn’t the fact that the shoes are unwearable stop her? These are shoes that don’t enable movement but hinder it. I suppose all’s fair in fashion; function can be considered secondary. Was this her fetish? Was it about status? Does this person have so much money that she no longer understands that spending $1000 to buy a pair of shoes that will hurt and hobble her is not a sound economic choice? 


It’s madness. It’s maddening. Is this the same group that says we can’t possibly raise the minimum wage to a living wage? Is it the same group that explains if we raise the minimum wage, then people won’t aspire to make more money, that paying people decently is a disincentive? That’s an actual argument against a living wage! Apparently, wage workers are wage workers because they are lazy and must be whipped into shape by being offered jobs that pay so little that working full-time leaves them in poverty. Meanwhile, this article explains that some women come to shop for shoes twice a week. They aren’t in the kitchen, the salesman explains; they’re at Bergdorfs. 


I’m not in the kitchen, either, guys. I’m at work. I’m working in my sensible shoes, earning a livable wage. I’ve got a Masters degree. Oh, I forgot. I’m a “taker,” not a “maker.” If I don’t own a factory, if I don’t employ others in my business, I’m a “taker.” I’m unsure how those employees would fare without an education, though maybe that’s the point. If we keep an uneducated working class, the wealthy can continue to justify the huge disparity in pay. The wealthy justify it without reason, using instead fear and propaganda, name-calling and lies. When the wealthy explain they can’t possibly pay more in taxes because it wouldn’t be fair, what they mean is that they have no desire to be fair. They are interested in status, in high heels and couture gowns that are painful and hideously expensive and, God help us, worst of all, aspirational. The six inch heels can be bought for $25 at every PayLess shoes in the country. We can’t all buy the surgery to alter our feet to fit into shoes. 


Back to the New York Times Magazine article. One woman, who had spent six months looking for the perfect pair of shoes for a bridal party, complained, “They’re forcing you to buy $1,000 shoes, you don’t have a choice, we’re doing it and we’re insane.” Jaw-dropping. Really, lady, you can’t force yourself to make do with a $100 pair of shoes? “She ended up choosing an ivory satin-and-lace Valentino pump with what she described as a ‘moderate platform’ (with a four-inch heel) for the daughter who’s getting married.” 


I like shoes. I like fashion. I like shopping. I like looking at pictures of incredible and intricate shoes and dresses. It stops there because I’m not crazy. I crave movement and health. I know my own worth.