Flats, heels, boots, ballets, sandals, clogs, platforms, wedges, strappy, buckled, lace-ups, peep-toes, I love shoes, desire and lust after them. I feel my heart race when I look at shoes I am considering buying, feel a jolt of joy when I wear them the first time. I know that I need to have shoes like I know that I need to eat and breathe. Perhaps I wouldn’t die if I had to wear the same drab pair of shoes for the rest of my life but some part of me would wilt and fade. Sometimes when I think about the things I would scramble to grab if my house were on fire, I think about my shoes. I feel pretty confident that I would make sure my dog and cat were safely out of harms way first, but after that I would grab my shoes.
I am far from the only woman who feels this way. Most of us do. On average, a woman owns 20 pairs of shoes at any given time. Many own more.
This was the theme of Shoe Obsession, an exhibition at The Museum of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), where 150 contemporary shoes by 50 different international designer were showcased in such a way as to inspirer the same feeling of awe and reverence that one might experience in a house of prayer.
The excitement began as I walked down the stairs, one among a crowd of woman and a few scattered male worshipers, to the basement museum of F.I.T. where the walls and floors were painted black, adding to the mystery of our “secret” obsession. No photos were permitted, but nearly every woman snapped at least one blurry shot with their I-phone before the guards could reprimand her.
The shoes were spotlighted in showcases like artifacts at the Vatican. They went from wearable to wild — spikes, glass, feathers, studs, lace. Every material available in the world seemed to be represented somewhere on some shoe. Though some compelled me more than others for a variety of reasons, I couldn’t choose a favorite if you twisted my ankle.
In the way that media can simultaneously talk about and create a phenomena, perhaps it was influence of
Sex and the City that gave permission for women to come out of the closet about shoes, though I think our passion goes much deeper. Shoe size rarely fluctuates with either weight or age and there is no wounding to our self esteem if a pair of shoes doesn’t fit well, unlike a dress or a pair of jeans. On the contrary, a great pair of shoes instantly changes our mood for the better. Putting on high heels lengthens our shape, changes the curve of our posture and that physical change can evoke an inner feeling of confidence and sexiness like putting on a smile can make us feel happy. We are suddenly, taller, thinner and shapelier. A pair of stilettos pushes that all out even further.
Most women will tell you that they love their shoes because of the way they make them feel. And many women are willing to play with shoes in a way they don’t play with other parts of their wardrobe.
According to co-curator Dr. Valerie Steele, “They’re an intimate extension of the body and seem to say so much about our attitudes, aesthetics, sexuality and social status.” Sculptural quality, she added, is another part of the appeal. “Maybe it’s because shoes are sculptural. Clothing, when not worn, just lies there flat, lifeless. But shoes seem to have an autonomous quality, which may explain why our obsession with shoes seems to have reached new heights.” The shoes displayed in this exhibition do indeed look a lot like art.