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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Know Your Limitations

--in heel heights, that is. Alcohol is also important, but you should already know that if you're over age 21.
Jeanne and I met up with some old friends last night for a little dinner and frozen yogurt. Lo and behold, where should we find ourselves but peering into the windows of our local shoe boutique? As we oohed and aahed over the impossibly high but beautiful stiletto heels and kistchy-cute platform pumps, a couple of our sportier friends remarked that they couldn't even imagine shopping for shoes like those. I believe the actual quote was, "I can't think of any reason why I would have to wear shoes like that in my life." When I refer to them as "sportier," I mean these are our friends who go biking on weekends in 100-degree weather instead of sitting in front of the TV with a nice tall glass of lemonade, as I am wont to do. They are the Sporty Spices of our group, while Jeanne is probably Baby Spice (as she was for Halloween one year, I think? No?), and I'm this close to being Scary Spice all the time now, with all the black I wear.

Their apprehension over lady-shoes got me to thinking. I was once like them. I was trained by my mother to reject high heels as a symbol of male oppression of women (at least that's what I remember) from childhood, but I'll be damned if those gorgeous pumps and kitschy heels don't get my heart all a-flutter. Now that I wear skirts and blouses that show off my figure like a big girl, I know I have to wear shoes to match. I learn by example, and I've seen it all. Classmates who show up to professional presentations in unhemmed dress pants, wrinkled, gaping sort-of dress shirts, and Birkenstocks. Co-workers who stumble around in stilettos only to be professionally hobbled by their actual physical inability to keep up at the office. Women who, after years of foot-mangling torture at the hand of cheap shoes, have to wear orthopedic sneakers all day.

I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. I am a conservative shoe-shopper. I love the retro, vintage-inspired shoes, and I demand quality for the price, not to mention ARCH SUPPORT. Over the years, I've learned that indeed, arch support is the ticket to a great pair of shoes--it's really just a system of exchanges. I'm willing to invest a little chafed heel to be able to walk to work in my work shoes with a nice cushioning under the arch of my foot. I'll take room to wiggle my toes over heel height any day. So, in this vein, I considered the price we pay as women for high heels. Corns? Bunions? Hammer toes? Damaged ankles, knees, and backs? Why do we put up with all of that?

Why? Because we love it, I'll put it out there. I love wearing heels now. I feel confident, professional, put-together, and dare I say it, sexy. I do wear low heels, and I've come to realize that 2.5 inches is my max, lest I fall down and break my ankle. Navigating flagstones and gravel is still a challenge, but walking on carpet is a dream! (There's a reason I love Mad Men and I'm known around the office as having a "sort of...retro-nerdy librarian-sexy charm," true story. I like to imagine I'm like Joan Holloway+one of the phone operator girls.)

Allow me to illustrate this spectrum of heel heights using all grey and silver shoes by my favorite, arch-supporting designer, Brazilian-Japanese Chie Mihara:
From the ground-skimming flat as flat can be to the sky-high platform, I love and desire them all. What does it take to go from top to bottom of the spectrum in heel height? Are those stories of women's calf tendons snapping after years of heels all true? I believe women's biggest enemy in shoedom is lack of support, I wish all pumps had a good bit of arch support to them, and we could all stomach it for just a bit past five o'clock every day.

So, beyond getting your shoes custom-made to the curvature of your feet, what's a girl to do? If you're absolutely lost in shoe store, like our friends often are, just be adventurous. Try, try again! Once upon a time, I tried on a green velvet three-inch Marc Jacobs pump that was fifty percent off and nearly cried when it was far too small. I wouldn't have known that the vamp was too low and showed too much toe cleavage if I hadn't tried them on, though, so lesson learned! You don't have to cop out and stick with sneakers for the rest of your life. Branch out, experiment--you'll know soon enough if they don't work.

Above all, make sure that there's good arch support, and the heel height is both comfortable and serves to enhance you. Here are some more tips on how to find your perfect, comfortable shoe. Have you made any shoe sacrifices in the name of fashion lately? I'm trying to cut back on the shoe-coveting, personally...damn you, Zappos!

Images courtesy of ChieMihara.com and PiperLime.com.


Jeanne said...

No, I was Baby Spice for actually going to see Spiceworld, never for Halloween.

And if you're wearing all black, you'd be Posh. You'd be Scary if you were constantly wearing animal prints.

Nada said...

Do you Fluevog? I love Mihara shoes but don't own any; they seem so arcane... but Fluevogs, esp. the Operetta series are comfy and retro-lovely!

Bridget said...

The thing that most people forget is to vary your heel height and the shoes you wear every day.

Ever wonder why boys that spend their days running around in tennis shoes feel so uncomfortable in the dress shoes they have to wear once every three months? Well, there are oodles of muscles in your feet, and when you wear the same pair of shoes over and over again, you don't stretch and work these muscles.

So - the best way to keep on top of comfort in your shoes is wear many different styles: flats one day and then a cute heel out that night, a wedge while running errands the next day, sneakers while you work out, etc... By varying the heel height you actually are doing much better things for your feet instead of wearing just flats.

Also - to avoid the heel chafage before it starts, I use liquid bandage (you can find it near the bandaids at your local pharmacy). It smells like banana lacquer (=pretty nasty) but you paint it on just like nail polish on the skin that will be exposed to friction. It works great!

Karen said...

Hi Nada! You know, I haven't checked out Fluevog in a while...I used to own one pair of kooky clodhopper-ish punk-rock creepers from Fluevog, they were CRAZY heavy and impossible to break in. It was definitely one of those "Hold on, why did I buy these?" purchases. I'll take a look at the Operetta series for sure!

Chie Mihara's shoes do take a little getting used to (i.e., can I really wear grey and lime-green slingbacks without looking insane?), but I'm just so glad to find a shoe designer who doesn't sacrifice comfort for style, or vice versa. "Comfort" shoes tend to look so...matronly, you know what I mean?

Karen said...

Hi Bridget,
I've heard good things about this "liquid bandage" stuff, too...I'll check it out. I like to use those stick-on padded shoe adjusters for the back of the heel and ball of the foot, they absolutely minimize chafing and can make a cheapie shoe feel 10x better. Still, if I'm paying good money for a pair of shoes, I hate to have to resort to the bandages and adhesives...

You bring up a good point about varying heel height and style to train your muscles, ever hear those old wives' tales about women who tear tendons walking on the beach barefoot after years of high heels? That's how I legitimize my running around in Converse with orthotic inserts all day!

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