Let’s get the formalities over with: I have a love-hate relationship with shoes. I love nothing more than going barefoot; in an ideal world, I would go every day sans footwear. The soles of the feet may be the most under appreciated part of the human body, buried within socks and shoes like an uncomfortable secret. I have had friends and lovers who have felt closer to me than my own skin, who have shared their bodies and souls with me, but have remained strangely reticent about taking their socks off, citing dislike and embarrassment about their feet. My mother tuts disapproval whenever I go into the garden barefoot. And yet we seem to forget that it was only relatively recently, with the onset of mass production, that wearing shoes became commonplace for most of the world’s population. Now there seems to be something faintly indecent about going without footwear which of course makes doing so almost rebellious and certainly quite sensual. You definitely haven’t really felt grass or sand or marble until you’ve felt them with the soles of your feet. And there is something so sexy, so Parisian laissez faire about somebody in public, maybe in a coffee shop or late night bar with their shoes kicked off, bare feet curled under them or propped up on the lap of a friend. It’s the polar opposite of the shoe as status symbol game where it’s not just the shoe but also its label and price tag that must be displayed so that the wealth and success of its owner can be appreciated. Expensive and desirable footwear speaks so much of our modern Capitalist culture; bare feet, by contrast, hark back to previous eras where we all lived a lot simpler and closer to the ground.
This is not to say that shoes don’t always carry their own type of memories. So much of our autobiographical memory is produced by sensory-perceptual details, inanimate objects made three dimensional through the events and emotions we associate them with. I put on my battered vintage loafers and suddenly, my very bones tingle with the thrust of memory. I remember difficult conversations where I’ve been unable to look anywhere but down at them, long heady nights at university where I’ve danced in them and split beer on them and exciting first dates where I’ve used them to play footsie under the table. Shoes can offer a source of protection and reassurance that goes beyond their ability to allow us to more deftly navigate physical terrain. When I went out to meet my ex-boyfriend, painfully aware that he was going to break up with me, I wore a pair of satin ballet slippers that have moulded perfectly to every contour of my feet. I knew that having to walk away from him was going to be hard; I wanted to make that walk a little easier by doing it in shoes that reminded me of ballet classes at the age of seven, of a time before men and sex and matter of the heart made life so messy. And they did make it a little easier.
Maybe then it’s not so much that I have a contentious relationship with shoes as it is that I must have a relationship with them for them to mean anything. When I come across a new pair, it’s not whether I need them that comes into my mind. It’s whether these shoes will be able to travel with me whilst I engage in the blind fumbling I call my life. They must fit my life, not the other way around. This above all means that they must be wearable and functional. Putting them on must remind me of who I am, where I’ve been and how much I have left to do. As much as I admire the space-age geometry of an Antonio Berardi heel-less boot or the complicated molten beauty of a Rodarte by Nicholas Kirkwood heel, I know that I would never wear these shoes. I may as well just put them behind glass and stare at them like the work of art they are. I’m clumsy and careless; I’m always falling down and tripping over myself in more ways than one. I need shoes that can handle this kind of rough and tumble. I don’t need shoes that are too beautiful to be touched, let alone wear. I learned this the hard way after saving for a stunning pair of dove grey Kurt Geiger courts with chiffon bows at the heel whilst I was still a student. I worked hard for them and was ecstatic when I was finally able to take them home. But after one outing with them, after arriving home after several falls and the bows unravelled and muddy, I realised that I was never going to wear them regularly. Three years later, I’ve worn them twice and whilst I love to look at them, they don’t evoke an emotional response in me the way my more practical and far less artless shoes do. When it comes down to it, it really isn’t as much about the shoe as it is the distance travelled in them. For the new season, I have my eye on the utilitarian leanings of shearling lined hiker boots and sturdy clogs paired with cable thigh-high socks. I need shoes that will keep me cosy and encourage me to walk tall and confident. I need the promise of new memories and miles to go before I sleep.
© 2010 Emma Mould