Female relationships with shoes has long been fraught and pre-dates Imelda Marcos, Carrie Bradshaw and Lady Gaga by many years. My mother routinely wore 3-4 inch spike heels when going out at night and then during the day when she was working part-time in an office. My grandmother, a sixth grade teacher, wore sensible pumps to work, but nevertheless heels. Heels came after nylons and garter belts as a right of passage and were about as big a deal as a new pair of Keds. Saddle shoes, hush puppies, and penny loafers were signals for the status-conscious in my all-girl high school, but those shoes were symbols of how much your parents were willing to spend on a pair of shoes you were still going to grow out of by the end of the year. Shoes that gave your blisters? Shoes that didn't fit properly? As my mother said, with the authority of the Coco Chanel of Chicago and the experience of wearing spike heels all the time, “You must suffer for beauty.” Chinese kids were already the poster children for starvation, now we had further reason to pray for the girls. “In China, they bind girls' feet so they don't become unattractively large,” my grandmother explained.
Be happy, our rigid, Betty Draper-like women role models told us, you could be in even more pain. Or, you could be tall. Yes, Jackie Kennedy may have size 10 feet, but she can get away with it because she's beautiful. And, by the way, are you really wearing a size eight-and-a-half already? Do they even make shoes for women in those big sizes? Shoes were not a fashion statement in the 1970s, shoes were a political statement. If I was in a situation that I could not be barefoot, I wore a pair of hippie handmade leather moccasins or sandals with wood platforms crossed by leather straps.
Once I got serious about my career I got serious about shoes too. Good-looking high-quality shoes became an increasingly critical part of my wardrobe. My first serious professional shoes were Charles Jourdan, tan suede with a three-inch-wood wedge heel purchased at Bonwit Teller. I found them vaguely uncomfortable, but they were a good point of adaptation.
I moved in with a roommate who advised us both to wear open toe pumps by Bruno Magli, an Italian designer brand that was very big in the 1980s, because they fit well and looked good. I stuck with this basic idea for many years and still have a fondness for Bruno Maglis. I've been told by numerous shoe sales people that even though I wasn't finding the exact shoe that could replace whatever my current Bruno Magli favorite was at the time, that I send the old Bruno Maglis off to Bruno Magli heaven even if it meant possibly trying another brand.
Bruno Maglis and I were together for a long-time. I once bought a khaki-suit to match a khaki-colored pair of open-toe Bruno Maglis. I was wearing navy blue Bruno Maglis which got soaked by walking in puddles made by rain in New Orleans that would soon turn into Hurricane Katrina. I also rescued two pairs of Bruno Maglis from the New Orleans Neiman Marcus—one animal print, one black and grey suede—which would have been wiped out by the flood if I hadn't removed them. (There intrigue involved with my surreptitious return to the store without my husband. The subterfuge had long since become a way of life when shoe shopping. No husbands, no receipts, no trace of payment.)
By the time of the dawn of true shoe madness began at the turn of the century, I was winding down—and so was Bruno Magli, losing market share to Badgley Mischka, Brian Atwood, Ferragamo, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs Giuseppe Zanotti and hundreds of other designers. While I still wear high heels, it's not very often. I frequently have to stand for prolonged periods of time at social events and if I manage to bandage my feet, my back makes sure I do not totally get off the hook without a few days on anti-inflammatories.
And yet the relentless lure of the beautiful shoe still hovers: An ill-timed visit to Zappos.com resulting in a pair of unwearables stashed in the back of a closet and more close-calls than I want to think about. (A pair of high-priced, high-quality fringed leather boots by Ash but not in my size, for instance.) The faint hope that springs eternal is the only reasonable explanation for why I continue to occasionally try on a high-heeled shoe.
Cork was what drew me to try the Lucky Brand high wedge shoe at the department store. (I have been convinced over time that you have to try shoes on, mail order doesn't cut it.) I was shocked as any one that the Lucky shoes were not only inexpensive, a great color and extremely comfortable, I loved them as much as I have ever loved any pair of shoes. The cork wedge is so lightweight it doesn't bother my tilted foot. My back doesn't have to curl in pain since my titled feet are not on fire.
A modern miracle. Of course, I did the right thing and purchased the same shoe in two more colors for 25% less on the web.
And just like that, I'm back in the game.