Wed May 7th, 2008 at 05:41:16 PM EST
Is there anything more beautiful than these bowed Christian Louboutins? I mean, besides equal rights, living wages, and world peace?
As I sat down on the train heading to work the other day, the woman across the aisle from me leaned over and said, "Excuse me." Oh God. I dread talking to strangers on the train on the way to work. First, it is too early for anything intelligible to exit my mouth. Secondly, the primary purpose of a train is to convey one from point A to point B - not to provide a forum for mingling. Intense socializing aboard a train usually means some disaster or inconvenience has occurred, some collective trauma has been suffered, a trauma that makes us aware of our own morality or afraid of terrorists, a trauma we are talking ourselves through because this might be our last moment on earth and we don't want to be alone, afraid, helpless... Mostly I'm just annoyed by chatty people while I'm trying to read, write, sleep, daydream or whatever other antisocial activity I am engaged in while commuting.
"I just love your shoes. Those are just great."
"Oh. Thanks." I smile politely and go back to pretending she doesn't exist. But on the inside, I am relieved. Because I wasn't sure if I should be wearing these shoes. They are pointy-toed Mary Janes. Not unlike the Manolo Blahniks on SATC, but very cheap and probably made in a Thai sweatshop by a 6 yr. old.
They look just like these:
Exactly. Except for the brand printed on the insole... Spooky. Anyway, not what you'd expect a Marxist librarian type to be wearing to work, perhaps. Esp. one who has spent the last 7 years in Danskos and Merrells.
It's not that I don't have a closet full of fabulous clothes and shoes, mind you. I spent a significant part of my childhood with my grandmother, who had been collecting clothing, shoes, hats, jewelry, etc. since 1911 and had not thrown one item away in all those years - that I am aware of. It. Was. Heaven. I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was a kid. Erté was my childhood hero. (It would be decades before I learned of his Russian background. But see, my eerie obsession dates pretty far back. I really should go to work for the CIA.) Someone somewhere along the way told me I was too cerebral for that line of work (fashion, not spying...), and I gave that person the benefit of the doubt. Which is what I always do, only to realize later the poor judgement on my part. Anyway, while I didn't become a fashion designer, I continued to play dress up, often with no regard to social conventions, well into adulthood. I worked at a bookshop with this Cuban fellow who DJ'd on the side and who'd managed to convince himself that my REAL job was being a fashionista at a glam boutique downtown. We were simply too fabulous to be working at a bookstore.
The historical connection between proles and flat shoes:
In 1533, the diminutive wife of the Duke of Orleans, Catherine de' Medici, commissioned a cobbler to fashion her a pair of heels, both for fashion, and to increase her stature. They were an adaptation of chopines (elevated wooden soles with both heel and toe raised not unlike modern platform shoes), but unlike chopines the heel was higher than the toe and the "platform" was made to bend in the middle with the foot.
High-heeled shoes quickly caught on with the fashion-conscious men and women of the French court, and spread to pockets of nobility in other countries. The term "well-heeled" became synonymous with opulent wealth. Both men and women continued wearing heels as a matter of noble fashion throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When the French Revolution drew near, in the late 1700s, the practice of wearing heels fell into decline in France due to its associations with wealth and aristocracy. Throughout most of the 1800s, flat shoes and sandals were usual for both sexes, but the heel resurfaced in fashion during the late 1800s, almost exclusively among women.
Also, heels are not very practical if you are working on the farm or in a factory. Or a bookstore, to be honest. Perhaps heels say, "Look at me, I have a job cush enough I don't have to stand or run around all day. Maybe I don't even need a job. Jealous?" I don't know. I've never actually thought about it. Now that I have, I feel even worse. Bad enough this feminist has caved to patriarchal demands of unattainable femininity. Now this communist has failed to show solidarity with the workers. I'm a failure. Wait. I bet a million pesos Eva Perón wore heels. She was down with the trade-unionists and suffragettes, right? See, it can be done.
Anyway, it wasn't until I settled into academia and a truly obnoxious relationship that I stopped dressing outlandishly. Suddenly I was surrounded by this conservative, casual New England aesthetic. Some schizoid combo of hippiness and gobs of money. It is a distinctly petit bourgeois thing. And the others in my life were just downright hippie-d out. Among normal people I'm usually overdressed. Suddenly I was over overdressed and living in some alternative reality where people actually cared. I couldn't simply assert myself and be me anyway, because inevitably hiking or biking or other methods of getting in touch with a muddy, snowy, or sweltery humid nature was always on the itinerary. I don't know what progressives have against the great indoors... Anyway, if I declined to participate in the nature outing du jour, it was an issue. I was being anti-social. (See a theme here?) If I had to go change into something appropriate and make everyone wait, I was being inconsiderate, high-maintenance. I'm just not a casual person at my core. Even when I tried to pare it down, I still remained overdressed and problematic. I tried to settle into some casual chic thing, but my eccentric side prevented me from every being very good at it. Glamourous + Merrells = Clown School.
Then one day my boyfriend complained that I was dressed too "proletarian." "Proletarian." I was wearing an artist's smock. Doing laundry. An application for the Communist Party of America hung on the bulletin board behind him. But it was clear that he wasn't just referring to that day's outfit or to class warfare. I wanted to scream "You can't have a hot little girlfriend who dresses up all the time when all you ever want to do is hang out with your parents and watch TV! You never ever want to go out so we don't go out. I've invited you to gallery openings, fundraisers, dinner parties, the ballet, New Years parties and you NEVER go! You don't even own a suit! The apartment smells like your tennis shoes! And I should get dressed up? For what? To help you in the garden?!" ... But I didn't.
He found himself a secret hot little girlfriend who maybe dresses up all the time. I found a new apartment and got my life and my looks back.
After 7 years of neglect, my closet of fabulous clothes and shoes still fit. (Actually that is a lie, most of the clothes became too big, but this is about shoes, not clothes.) And I began wearing them again. Why? Maybe because I suddenly had the extra energy needed to devote to that level of couture. Maybe it was because I suddenly looked good in everything and stopped caring if this makes me look fat. Maybe it was because I was back in the game and believed the hot little girl who dresses up all the time gets the prize. Maybe it was because I'm implicitly flawed and need these extra things to make me feel feminine and sexy and in charge. Maybe I suddenly felt feminine and sexy and in charge and thought this was a simple way to express that. Maybe there was some nefarious evolutionary thing going on. Maybe there was some innocent having fun playing dress-up thing going on.
Reasons for wearing high-heels, which are almost exclusively aesthetic, include:
-they change the angle of the foot with respect to the lower leg, which accentuates the appearance of calves
-they change the wearer's posture, requiring a more upright carriage and altering the gait in what is considered a seductive fashion
-they make the wearer appear taller
-they make the legs appear longer
-they make the foot appear smaller
-they make the glutial muscles more defined while wearing tight pants
The first day I wore heels to work, I think I wrote Izzy half-way through the day on the verge of tears. They hurt too much. How do people do this? She said it takes practice. I was incredulous. She was right! Now I can run (oh yes!) in those very same shoes!
Previously, in my academic chic/clown school days, I had a belief that wearing heels, esp. the slinky strappy kind without a chunky heel, would cause me to break my ankle. Because I've already broken it 3 times, each time wearing much more supportive footwear. But it seems to me that I feel less likely to break my ankle in heels. The ankle joint seems distinctly stronger when I wear them. Wearing heels forces one to walk with good posture and pay more attention to ones gait. And I always break my ankle when I'm not paying attention, which is most of the time. So I am now a big fan of heels and prefer to wear them. I generally feel stronger all over when I wear them. Both literally and metaphorically. If you think about it, they strengthen your muscles, make you appear taller, and you can't shuffle around like you are a downtrodden prole, even if you are in solidarity with the workers. Wearing heels kind of makes you hold your chin up even when you feel awful. There is something implicitly perseverant about them. I don't even know if that is a real word. And ... I think they are sexy. YMMV - if you can get away with lying to yourself, that is...
A recent study suggested that wearing high heels may improve the tone of a woman's pelvic floor, thereby improving her (and her partner's) sex life.
You may be wondering what inspired me to write this. What does this have to do with the price of rice at WalMart? Well, if ET is anything, it is a place to complain about what is wrong with the world and provide solutions. Correct? Do you know what I think is wrong with the world? Besides inequality, poverty and war?
Send these to the Hague, please...
I know. You thought I was going to end this diary with some comment about how being a feminist means believing every woman can decide for herself what to wear, thank you very much. Well, it turns out I'm a latent authoritarian. It turns out some people cannot be trusted to dress themselves. It's true. Everywhere I turn, someone has gotten out of bed, put on a sweatshirt, jeans, and pink metallic ballet flats, and ... left the house. I was recently having a debate with Izzy about the difference between legal rights and moral responsibility (as in, just because you have the right to do something does not imply you should do it.) Ok, I do think women have the right to pick out their own wardrobes. Obviously. Free speech and all that. But there are laws enacted by governments to protect the rights of citizens, and there are eccentric and random laws I enact in my head as dictator of my own reality. Like Schiller, I consider aesthetics a matter of moral consequence.
Schiller wrote many philosophical papers on ethics and aesthetics. He synthesized the thought of Immanuel Kant with the thought of Karl Leonhard Reinhold. He developed the concept of the Schöne Seele (beautiful soul), a human being whose emotions have been educated by his reason, so that Pflicht und Neigung (duty and inclination) are no longer in conflict with one another; thus "beauty," for Schiller, is not merely a sensual experience, but a moral one as well: the Good is the Beautiful. His philosophical work was also particularly concerned with the question of human freedom, a preoccupation which also guided his historical researches, such as the Thirty Years War and The Revolt of the Netherlands, and then found its way as well into his dramas (the "Wallenstein" trilogy concerns the Thirty Years War, while "Don Carlos" addresses the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain.) Schiller wrote two important essays on the question of the Sublime (das Erhabene), entitled "Vom Erhabenen" and "Über das Erhabene"; these essays address one aspect of human freedom as the ability to defy one's animal instincts, such as the drive for self-preservation, as in the case of someone who willingly dies for a beautiful idea.
"Only through Beauty's morning-gate, dost thou penetrate the land of knowledge." ~Friedrich Schiller
Therefore, while it is perfectly legal to do this, and rightly so, people who wear ballet flats -not all, but many, too many- are committing aesthetic crimes right and left and causing a moral outrage!
Confusing an adjective with an objective.
The same rule applies to "ballet" flats that applies to "skinny" jeans. Skinny jeans are for skinny people. If you are not skinny, wearing these jeans will not make you look skinny. I know. I wish they did too. Likewise, ballet flats are for ballerinas (or people who could credibly pass as one.) If you are not a ballerina, wearing these shoes will not make you look like one. The fact is, they are only flattering to the very thin and preferably tall. Which means that they are even more fascist than heels! Anyone can look good in heels. In fact, anyone can look better in heels. They are completely democratic in that respect. They provide an aesthetic safety net: regardless your ability to look good, heals will help out a little. I've yet to see anyone look better in ballet flats. I saw the Kirov perform Swan Lake last year, and afterwards the leads came out in their street clothes to talk to the audience. Even the prima ballerina looked better without the tutu and toe shoes! And how many of us look better than a Russian ballerina? You don't. I don't.
Lilly: Not very stunning...
Inciting civil war between your shoes and your clothing.
"L'ensemble, c'est tout" That's the title of a cute book and Audrey Tatou flick. It's also the law being violated by the majority of the ballet flat shod. I will preface this with the acknowledgement that a certain section of society can wear pretty much anything and get away with it, largely because they are fashion geniuses or their authenticity and personality overshadow their outward appearance. However, most of us have not yet attained that level of enlightenment.
This hipster chic (via The Sartorialist) could have probably put anything on her feet and still looked cool:
You may think you are one of these people. Maybe you are. But the numbers do not add up when you compare the number of people who have attained that level of enlightenment and the number of people roaming city streets in lacy and ribboned and velvet ballet flats accompanying jeans and sweatshirts. Or business suits and ballet flats. Or cocktail dresses and ballet flats. Just because something is comfortable does not mean it goes with everything in your closet. Americans especially struggle with this concept. (Will get to that later.) A good rule of thumb for wearing ballet flats, after you have confirmed with someone else that you have a passably ballerina-esque figure, is to pair them with something you've seen Audrey Hepburn wear in a movie. Or a tutu.
Works. She already looks like a ballerina, and Hepburn could have conceivably worn a similar dress.
Does not work. Parker is stunning, but too hardcore to be a ballerina, and that dress is bit glam for Audrey-hood.
Do you understand now? Even Parker Posey can't pull this look off well. And she is a genius, a goddess, a fashionista extraordinaire! For those unfamiliar with this remarkable woman, Parker Posey is basically like me in celebrity incarnation. That is, she plays characters who are trendy librarians, who fall in love with men in Paris, and who use the word "Slavic" as a synonym for "sexy". It's kind of eerie, actually. Anyway, she's perfect. And I was fully under the impression she could do no wrong until I saw this.
BTW, If you are wandering what kind of fashion advice a librarian dispenses, I will alert you to the phenomenon of Libarian Chic. The example below also via Sartorialist.
"Librarian Chic." Notice the heels:
Back to our topic.
If you have neither tutus or Audrey Hepburn dresses in your closet but insist on wearing ballet flats anyway because you have a passably ballerina-esque figure and can get away with it, then remember the most rudimentary guideline (can be applied to all wardrobe dilemmas!): just make sure they match your outfit! Honestly, how difficult is that? Have mothers stopped teaching kids how to dress? Do you think wearing purple rhinestone encrusted ballet flats with a sensible business casual outfit is funky or hip or ironic? It's not. It's clown school. If you doubt me, hold on to those shoes for 2 years and then try to think what you wore them with... You probably won't be able to remember, having blocked the scary memory of wearing them as a defense mechanism.
If all this seems a bit demanding, there is a simple alternative: Don't wear them at all.
Do you think I am being too harsh? I'm hardly alone in my outrage. (Though a member of a persecuted minority, to be sure.)
Over the last 3 years I have seen the emergence of a new type of fashion disgrace. Yes, these flat vulgar shoes often accompanied with 80's charity shop clothes and pastel shaded makeup are combined to create some kind of 50's/80's mutant. I detest this current trend and find these 'ballet flats' extremely offensive. Firstly the colours are generally silver or gold. That in itself is grotesque. Secondly they are a ballet shoe, looking completely impractical and extremely flimsy. This pathetic excuse for a shoe rises to the very heights of the shoe obscenity top ten that includes Espadrille's and Cork Platforms.
Then there is the fashion style that goes along with these shoes. Often with the 'common' wearer they are just in jeans (often ankle length) and other than that a casual top of sorts. However the 'hardcore' go for 'ra ra' skirts, or 80's charity wear and for the life of me they look like such sad try hards I can only weep for their lack of originality.
"Oh, but they are SOOOO comfortable," you say. "What am I supposed to wear, heels that are bad for my feet?!"
Well, if it is the health of your feet you are using as a lame ass excuse for traipsing about in these darling little fashion terrors, then you should probably switch over to Merrells, because ballet flats are bad for your feet too. And apparently you don't mind looking like a clown anyway.
Women often think they're doing their feet a favor when they ditch the heels and put on flip-flops or ballet flats because there's no heel, no pointed toe, no reason to worry. Right?
Not so, say podiatrists, who treat foot problems often exacerbated by improper footwear. "The thing that flip-flops do best is carry patients into my office," said Stephen Pribut, a D.C. podiatrist. The repeated process of lifting your heel away from the shoe surface (creating that characteristic flip-flop sound) creates tension in the foot, said Pribut, which can worsen such painful inflammatory conditions as plantar fasciitis.
Erika Schwartz, a podiatrist in private practice in the District and Chevy Chase, advised that ballet flats and flip-flops "really shouldn't be worn for any kind of excessive walking [because there's] really nothing giving you support underneath."
Promoting American cultural hegemony, a primary tenet of which is that everyone must dress as slovenly as possible.
Ok, fine. Maybe all of this anger over a pathetic little shoe fad is just a symptom of a larger concern of mine. As I illustrated in the outset of this diary with my tale about being chronically over-dressed, it's slightly subversive in this mad nation to dress up. To put some thought into what you wear and how it becomes you. In Catholic school I was taught that dressing like a bum, unless you are one, and even then you should were your best clothes, if you have any, is a signifier of disrespect for God, who created us, and why can't we return the favor by wearing something that compliments our beautiful human form? I don't know about the God bit, but I agree with the rest. Is there not a connection between our outward appearance and human dignity? Think about it. Please don't make me bring up Gitmo and Auschwitz and that stuff, because that's not really appropriate for this type of diary. Ok. When people get depressed, what do they do? Stop caring how they look, "let themselves go." And it's not about money. As Tyra Banks said, "it's not about money, you just have to find what looks good on you." So I think one could make an argument that dressing up, dressing well, is a kind of passive resistance to U.S. imperialism. At the very least, you'll look less American...
"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." ~ Walt Whitman.
I am wearing ballet flats at this very instant! No, I am not shaped like a ballerina. But I am wearing these black flats with a tailored shirt dress and black beatnikish leggings, and I'm pretty sure Audrey would have worn this outfit. Plus I've chopped off my bangs short, so I'm using my Audrey hair to compensate for my lack of Audrey waifishness.
I paid $1.90 for these shoes. Seriously, they rung up as that price, and the wage slave cashier sold them to me for that price. I don't even think you can get gum for that price. We really must be in a Depression if they are selling shoes for two bucks a pair! Christ.
But you know ... even during the Great Depression women wore heels:
So I guess I need not worry about being a Marxist Librarian in Manolo Blahnik knock-offs...
Oh. And Izzy. I found them!
Now I just have to inherit a lot of money. So difficult being a prole and looking fabulous... A round of applause for anyone who makes an honest effort!
Ok, Thanks for reading, even though I know you didn't read this, because no one around here bothers themselves with such matters. I should go back to writing about Putin's biceps and luring stalkers, huh? But it is the EUROPEAN TRIBUNE! What's more European than nice shoes? Just because you are a bunch of hippies doesn't mean your GDP isn't contingent upon the production of Italian oxfords and French pumps!
Anyway... Hoping the rest of your week is as lovely as those Louboutins.