Forget the Gloves – The Shoes are Coming Off

Shoes are in the dog house.

It sounds a bit like something you’d find on a post-it note stuck to your fridge one morning. You know, your keys are in the goldfish bowl, your shoes are in the dog house, that sort of thing. Last night was a bit too heavy on the Chablis and you vaguely recall, in your morning-after-the-night-before-bleary-eyed-state, teetering in through the door, flinging them off your weary feet and straight into your unsuspecting pet Chihuahua’s humble abode, where they remained until the trusty post-it note pointed you in the right direction the following morning.

Bad shoes. How on earth did they end up there?

I’m sure this happens all the time to some people. But I’m talking about the metaphorical dog house. Lately shoes have been making the news for all the wrong reasons and finding themselves on the receiving end of some skinny legs and bad press.

I don’t think the Queen is one for throwing her shoes around after hitting the Chablis. But she did throw a dinner party. And my, what a dinner part it was. A diamond jubilee dinner party. A diamond jubilee dinner party for all the dignitaries and dictators the world has to offer. (Quite why the Palace thought it would be a good publicity stunt for the Queen to be seen warmly greeting world leaders such as the King of Bahrain, who has a catalogue of human rights abuses etched against his name, is anyone’s guess. A royal snub would have been far more satisfying, and might have actually suggested the royals are just about still with it.)

One such crony who was in attendance was the King of Swaziland, whose fourth wife accompanied him in heels made up of a monstrous combination of pink feathers, sequins and diamonds. The extravagance of the shoes only served as a reminder that Swaziland is one of the poorest countries in the world, and one where the difference in lifestyle between the king and his many wives and the people he rules over, is perverse. It was almost as if the king was trying to say ‘I do so apologise for the fact that thousands are starving in our country, and we hope it doesn’t cause too much embarrassment, but oh look! Perhaps I can distract you by showing you my fourth wife’s (my favourite, make no mistake) SHOES! How pink and fluffy and oh WHAT FUN! How anything terrible could be going on in my country with shoes as sparkly as these in existence is a mystery.’ Women often get generically berated for their unquantifiable obsession with shoes. But I wonder what is worse; owning too many pairs of shoes, or too many wives. Or come to think of it, a country where many live in acute poverty and issues such as education and health desperately need addressing.

The King of Swaziland’s wife’s faux pas came hot on the heels of another wag who has discredited all thing stylish; cue Asma Al-Assad, the glamorous Cruella Deville of the Middle East. As her country burns, her people are bombed and Syria’s cities become ghost towns. Yet Cruella nips to Harrods and muses to friends about buying a pair of designer heels worth, just a casual, £3,795. I wonder if she ever noticed how the unsettling signature scarlet soles of her Louboutins perfectly match the blood being spilled daily in her family’s name.

There was a time when shoes were a lot more innocent. In fact, they were borderline inspirational. Dorothy clicked her marvellous shiny red shoes and ended up somewhere magical. Cinderella’s glass slipper transported her away from her life of drudgery, hard-work and the ugly sisters and into the arms of some prince who no doubt bored her beyond belief, and actually already had several other wives up his sleeve, but I digress. Once upon a time, shoes were objects of beauty and empowerment that actually took you somewhere, and not only because you could actually physically walk in them.

Then you grow up a bit more. Shoes start to become less innocent, but they’re still powerful in an edgy, sexy, daring way. Kitten heels, stiletto heels, ‘statement’ shoes, and platform shoes all take to the stage. Such things as ‘Fuck me’ shoes appear, and presumably ‘fuck you’ shoes too, with feminists going to war over the former; Germaine Greer’s screeching attacks on Suzanne Moore proving that your choice of shoe matters enormously. You suddenly find your boots end half way up your thigh, and are no longer the warm, sensible waterproof friends for miserable winter days. No, they’re made for walking, and one of these days these boots are going to, well, you know the rest. And it’s not just women’s shoes that are suddenly propelled into the realms of the political. You’re simply not a controversial-enough politician if someone hasn’t thrown their shoe at you: just google Wikipedia’s list of shoe-throwing incidents to see the real meaning of a ‘statement’ shoe. At this point, it’s still just about possible to see Dorothy and Cinderella’s magical glow in your shiny patent shoes, gleaming back up at you. These shoes are the shoes you stamp your feet in to make your point and land on your feet by landing your dream job. These shoes treat you well. They’re friendlier than less forgiving items of attire. Toni Collette’s character in the chick flick, ‘In Her Shoes’ says ‘when I feel down, I like to treat myself. Clothes never look any good, and food just makes me fatter, but shoes always fit.’ Shoes have grown up to be feminist, political and empowering mini feats of remarkable architecture.

But it’s all gone too far. Stylish, nimble heels have been propelled into dizzying heights. And the masters behind these mini feats of engineering, who you assumed to be kind figures with your best fashion interests at heart, are actually as almost as despotic as some of the women who wear their creations. Christian Louboutin has declared in interviews that he designs his shoes for the appreciation of men, not women, and that he deplores the idea of comfort; ‘Comfy – that’s one of the worst words!’ he screeched to the New Yorker in an interview last year. If you thought super skyscraper heels were made to make you feel good, you’ve been duped. The truth is, the higher they get, the more precariously they become associated with all the other dangerous and damaging things women have at some point put their bodies through in order to please the opposite sex; Chinese foot-binding, whale-bone corsets, plastic surgery.

The truth is, the feet are tired. The heels are worn down, the stiletto has got stuck one too many times in the grating, the escalator, and in a rut. High, high heels are not the stylish, sophisticated friends they ostensibly appear to be. You can’t do any of the important things in life in skyscraper heels. You can’t go Scottish reeling and you can’t walk the Inca trail. Instead they hinder, restrict and limit women who in this day and age should be more free and liberated than ever before. The highest of heels belong to dictator’s wives, who sit listless and dumb at home, powerless and culpable. There is no one size fits all, granted, and some women can look and feel wonderful balanced on top of two precarious peaks (although many more simply don’t). But the thought-process behind what we choose to put on our feet in order to put our best foot forward deserves closer inspection.