A mile in your shoes


By Jill Lowe

I love walking in shoes.
Shoes complete a look.
But so important, shoes somehow make me walk. The approach with some
confidence, an air of authority, can give me an attitude of “I have miles to go,
things to do, and who knows how long I have?

I have a collection of many types of shoes, of course, none as far back as Chopines – those platform shoes from 16th century Italy, or even shoes worn by Manchurian women in China around 1800, like those pictured in the Bata Museum footwear in Toronto, Canada.

Dreaded words (previously associated with members of another generation) “wide toe, overpronation, orthotics, freeze this and that”, have entered the vernacular. WHAT????

I surrounded myself with like-minded people like Christian Louboutin, “I would hate for someone to look at my shoes and say, ‘Oh my God! They look so comfortable!

So what to do?

How do you go from an “Imelda Marcos fund” perspective to a collection of shoes that you will actually wear?

I must have had a good collection of shoes (no, not like Sex in the City), but a collection of mixed samples, because a friend had taken a picture of my shoe storage a few years ago (I keep the boxes and I put pictures on the front) and then fashioned a Christmas card of the shoes with the caption “Shoes in the olden days”

Whoops ! I still have many of these shoes even though they are from yesteryear, although quite a few have gone to charities or at least to the “shoe gateroom”: that’s reserved for shoes that don’t are not discarded until it is SURE they must go. (this avoids having to come back weeks from now to the Salvation Army store to buy them back!)

Artists have used shoes, often as an example of everyday objects used as expressions in installations.

Like the website of the Virtual Shoe Museum (link in notes) says of Willie Cole “The repetitive use of single objects in multiples, Cole’s assembled sculptures acquire a transcendent, almost spiritual vibration, and a renewed metaphorical meaning that often becomes a critique of our consumer culture.”

Willie Cole absolutely stunning facility at Hamilton, New Jersey’s carving patterns almost 7 feet 2005-6 Pretty in Pink installation, uses many shoes in circles to express the concept of lotus flowers that die and bloom again.

Photo: courtesy of artist Willie Cole

Too, Chiharu Shiota explores human existence through different dimensions. His large-scale wire installations include a variety of common objects like keys, windows, shoes, with a network of wires and threads. Born in Osaka, Japan (1972), she lives and works in Berlin.

Did I say I love shoes? Although I’ve never worn stilettos, I love watching young people sparkle at a party or wedding with stilettos in all ways, sparkly, strappy, slingback, pumps elegant with magnificent colors, bows, heels of different shapes.

Marilyn Monroe’s shoes in Seward Johnson’s 26-foot sculpture installed at Pioneer Court in Chicago in 2011

Fashions, customs and mentalities are changing. At one time it was such that guts were needed with shoes. Not anymore – except for the queen. Conversely, it has never been acceptable to wear a hose with open-toed shoes.

I believe it was around 9/11 that women started wearing running shoes to walk to work, with many wearing “dress shoes” to work. Gradually, many running shoes became dress shoes, with an explosion of colors, fabrics, in women’s flats and REALLY some with those wide toes.

Travel dictated fewer pairs of shoes. Carry-on luggage means that one chooses very carefully. There’s no room for “they probably won’t hurt in Italy” here. No, you have to travel with known comfort.

If we think it’s hard enough to pack and limit shoes, imagine when you have to travel with your whole leg. I speak of these 2 women because they are amputees who regularly wear different shoes. (It’s often quite difficult to walk as an amputee, let alone change shoes)

Aimee Mullins– role model, athlete and speaker, a bilateral amputee is one of my champions. With 12 pairs of legs, she has different heel heights, legs with blades for running. Plus, she has legs of varying lengths, prompting other models to exclaim that it was unfair “to be able to change sizes!!! Her Ted Talk is so impactful. (link in notes)

Alexander McQueen exhibited in 2011 at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. For the exhibition, McQueen had fashioned a pair of carved wooden feet for Aimee. Many thought she was wearing boots. Poor Aimee, the outfit she wore the sculpted legs in the exhibit had a skin-tight leather vest that had a collar so high it forced her to look straight ahead. This added challenge of not being able to look at the ground for balance caused her some apprehension.

Photos from the book Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty

Another resident of my college boarding house – a single amputee, Lila had 2 prosthetic legs – 1 for heels and 1 for flats – (technology does not yet allow heel height adjustment although she has a threaded gear at the prosthetic heel to allow minor changes for different shoe heel heights)

This however meant that my friend Lila had to go on holiday in a taxi to the airport with her extra legs, and in her case including a swimming leg (because standard artificial legs cannot be exposed to the sun). water unless they are specifically designed for use in water and on sand.)

Shoes, Shoes, Shoes: the subject of museums, greeting cards and decorative objects.

The Cath Tate cards greeting card refers to the quest to have bags to match shoes. So prevalent at the end of the 20th century, you never left the shoe store without a companion bag. This notion was dropped with only an attempt at coordination and certainly no “matchy matchy”. Eclectic is today’s mantra. Additionally, many today are ditching the bag altogether, carrying a credit card and ID on the back of the phone instead!

Andy Warhol Note Cards
Shirley Dutchover
Kawabuchi Note Cards

THE IDIOME- Before judging a man, walk a mile in your shoeslong credited as a Native American aphorism, replacing the word shoes with moccasins, the saying is almost certainly derived from a poem by Mary T. Lathrop published in 1895. There are many variations of this phrase, such as walk a mile in his, her or my shoes, including humor from Steve Martin:-

Used by organization Walk a mile in her shoes®:- Men ending Men’s Sexualized Violence: Since 2001, men, women and their families have joined the International Men’s March to End Violence. (link in notes)

For real pleasure, visit virtually or in person, in Canada, the treasures of the charming and surprising Museum of the Footwear of North America. The BATA shoe museum regularly exhibits more than a thousand shoes from a collection of more than 14,000 objects, in architect Raymond Moriyama’s iconic award-winning building. 4,500 years of history are reflected in the permanent exhibition ALL ABOUT SHOES.

With the dreaded words meaning “meaningful”, many might think this could be the end of the style. “Not so”! I say.

The emergence of the kitten heel (is that what we called the illusion heel?) and flat shoes with such a slight rise, the wedge heel, even though it is only a slight rise, as well as the explosion of oxfords or elegant industrial boots have enabled sensitive and comfortable to be stylish. Trips and falls can be avoided.

The gait is so indicative of shoe comfort and walking confidence. So, at all costs, I find it best to wear any shoe that allows for stability and balance without having to take those choppy steps, with a wide base, when wearing unsuitable shoes.

Maybe there comes a time when you have to follow what is said to be a basic requirement of an opera singer which is to wear comfortable shoes, or as the screenwriter of Thelma and Louise said , Callie Khouri: “Always, in all circumstances, wear comfortable shoes. You never know when you might have to run for your life.

Notes and further reading.

Photo of Jill: Joe Mazza Bravelux Inc.
Unattributed photos – copyright © 2022 Jill Lowe. All rights reserved
Bata Shoe Museum https://batashoemuseum.ca
Click here for Aimee Mullins Ted talk: February 2009

Chiharu Shiota
https://www.chiharu-shiota.com/over-the-continents THE CONTINENTS, 2014 old shoes, red wool

Virtual Shoe Museum https://virtualshoemuseum.com/willie-cole/

Willie Cole https://www.williecole.com

Virtual Shoe Museum https://virtualshoemuseum.com/willie-cole/

https://www.groundsforsculpture.org in Hamilton, New Jersey


Books: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty 2011


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