Where are the Shoes of Yesteryear?

On reading “Who Made That Stiletto?”  New York Times,  April 15th, 2012

I was married in 1956. My husband was a young academic psychiatrist and I was a graduate student living inCambridge. The reasons for our visits to NY were many….meetings of the American Psychoanalytic Society, the theater, art galleries, museums, friends, French restaurants…but for me a visit to Ferragamo was always first on the list.

One memorable day sitting in the Park Avenue store, I noticed that my husband’s expression as the boxes of stilettos piled up (they were in fact considerably lower heels than today’s version), had shifted from enjoyment to bemusement to alarm. The enthusiastic salesman knowing an addict like me when he saw one, leaned back and smiled sympathetically at him saying:  “You should feel lucky. My wife insists on having the matching bags.”

I never did insist on having the bags as I believed they were not of the same level of design or workmanship as the shoes although I still have a significant collection of them bought in the late-lamented Filene’s Basement.

The shoes occupy their own niche of Proustian memories. I’m sure that over the years I accumulated more than the 60 pairs mentioned in the article. Many have been given away.  Along with Roger Viviers they went to the Museum of Fine Artsin Bosto nor to friends with younger feet. But I have kept several pairs for gazing purposes..for the aficionados AL3819 885..a black suede work of art with an intricately designed black lace insert across the metatarsals with 3.5 inch heels, takes the top spot.  As the years passed, the height of the heels had to get lower and lower. The first move away from the stiletto was the 3 inch heel..a knockout pair of purple suede with a securing strap across the instep (02 32996), the first sign of encroaching age. These were followed by the 1” heel another sculpture worthy of Donatello (black suede with red suede cuffs and gold leather lining, (DU 13400 111), and finally the acceptance of an alien species..sneakers!

What the chief curator of the Fashion Institute did not mention in her litany of the pleasures of wearing stilettos..”look taller, thinner, more bosomy and with a curvier bottom,” is what I believe is the most important, if unconscious (to use a word of the 1950 and 60s) reason…the pelvis is thrust forward, the genetically wired (a more modern term) presenting position that signals to the male of the species that the female is ready to accept him.

The women in Sex in the City mirrored the changing sexual mores as with their gorgeous stilettos and the consequent pelvic thrusts, they seemed to be signaling that they were ready. More than that I felt that the shoes themselves had become weapons of aggression. The most updated version are not Ferragamos but the Christian Louboutin shoes currently on view on Madison Avenue with fear-inspiring gold spikes emanating from their toes like the guns on 18th century British warships and heels that must measure more than six inches. They  were ordered recently by Mrs.Asma Al Assad the wife of the Syrian dictator. What more do cultural anthropologists need to understand society?

Dorothy S. Zinberg

Cambridge, MA

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