In a strange way, the old adage “the shoe maketh the (wo)man” is in my head as I get dressed every morning.
With shoes, sometimes there’s a winner, and sometimes I’m left feeling lackluster about my outfit. So, after too many mornings staring at my shoe closet looking for the right pair, I dress with a bottom up strategy-- shoes first, earrings and mascara last.
One morning on the R train, I found myself staring at a Manhattan Mini Storage ad: “NYC: TOLERANT OF YOUR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, BUT JUDGEMENTAL OF YOUR SHOES.”
The ad made me smile and gesture one of those eye-rolls devoted to half-hearted submission. Judgement aside, “the shoe maketh the man” argument represents the way footwear affects the way we carry ourselves in terms of style, confidence, professionalism, and our keenness to dress appropriately for the occasion. This goes especially for New Yorkers. When are we not on our feet? Is it so absurd to look at our shoes as an answer to the question, “How do I want to feel and be perceived today?”
There is a dichotomy between our perception of high heels or men’s dress shoes and a pair of sneakers. I don’t feel guilty when I say that heels give me a sense of adulthood and seriousness, while sneakers tend to make me feel frolicsome and kiddish. I can’t deny the sense of authority versus the sense of freedom. As a 5’1” woman I concededly make an effort to find a middle ground.
Rather expectedly, this directed me toward the problematic dialogues revolving around women’s high heels. When the high heel “maketh the (wo)man,” fetishism, erotic capital, money, and power all come into play. The faustian bargain women encounter with heels in undeniable, leaving most to walk the fine line between feeling empowered and purchasing band-aids and emergency flats at the nearest Duane Reade.
In a dated profile of actress Meg Ryan, writer and biographer Douglas Thompson began with an analysis of her stylistic transformation. He addressed the power of self-presentation while she noted the power of a pair of dark suede heels:
"The hair is expensively cut but casually worn. The charcoal Armani suit over a beige Donna Karan blouse spells power lady. As do the dark suede heels. She grins:
'When I wear high heels I have a great vocabulary and I speak in paragraphs. I’m more eloquent. I plan to wear them more often.' "
These are women’s words, but I predict she would speak them whether or not a man is present in the room. But why am I thinking this way? Traditionally, the media portrays the world as it looks through the male gaze -- does this train women’s eyes to look at each other through that same lens? What is it about high heels that tend to make a woman feel more attractive.
Some of that “attractive” feeling is linked to the way our bodies engage with heels. Footwear is the basis for our posture -- of utmost importance in how we carry and present ourselves. Beyond sociological significance, it turns out that the shoes we put on our feet have biological and evolutionary implications, as well. There are circles spinning around the debate about high heels, as well as athletic sneakers: One is associated with dressing up and the other to dress down. One is alluring and injurious, while the other provides function and chosen comfort. Physiologically, sports medicine scientists are avidly trying to determine if humans are better off running barefoot due to a possible advantage of striking the ground with the balls of our feet, as opposed to our heels (which is what athletic shoes incline us to do).
A Harvard professor contends that humans evolved to be amazing runners, yet modern day Nikes make our feet crash into the ground. One article purports that “Flats are for Quitters,” and Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University, explains the power of heels, as they put women’s bodies into a position called ‘lordosis’:“thrust[ing] out the buttocks and arch[ing] the back into a natural mammalian courting -- actually, copulatory pose. Rats do it, sheep do it...lions do it, dogs do it...It is a naturally sexy posture that men immediately see as sexual readiness.” Marilyn Monroe apparently used to cut one heel to be half an inch shorter than the other to emphasize her ‘wiggle.’ The discourse can get confusing, contradictory even.
High heels and running sneakers -- each serve a valuable purpose in our wardrobes. Being able to costume ourselves in our daily lives is what makes the act of ‘dressing the part’ such a relevant, cultural preoccupation. We need not be typecast as the priss who only struts in heels, or the hipster who only rocks Chuck Taylor’s. As long as we find ways to wear both well, everyone wins. It seems like a funny question, but as the topic sits at the axis of sociology and style, which type of shoe (or lack thereof) leaves you more akin to the ‘self’ you feel the most in sync with? In other words, what shoe makes you you?
The three general terms we use to classify women’s shoes are heels, sneakers, and flats. Here are three tips to help make the most out of each:
1. Take a lesson from Cinderella: high heels are rarely the perfect fit. Customize and tweak a pair that needs a bit of tailoring for a confident stride by first wearing them around the house on hard floors (not carpet). Get a feel for any pain, rubbing, or slippery soles and then address them with Dr. Scholl’s Ball of Foot Padding or Rub Relief Strips. For slick bottoms, stick on Grippy Steps -- they’ll add traction and are an effortless way to preserve the soles of your shoes.
2. If the argument for barefoot running is as inconclusive to you as it apparently is to many scientists, take a visit to Jackrabbit Sports -- the most advanced shoe fitting service in New York City. Their team will put you on a treadmill, examine your biomechanics and set you up with the perfect pair of shoes fit for the way YOU run.
Nael Coce's Eco-Friendly Stiletto Heels with Built-in Ballet Flats
3. And now...for the best of both worlds: a high heel that converts to flats. Could it be true? Yes. The lining of Nael Coce pumps slip out into a slipper-like flat to wear whenever your feet need a rest. They’re also made from eco-friendly, antibacterial materials and are very affordable.