Saturday, September 18, 2010

Shoes as a Landmark: A Journey into Adulthood and Femininity

In middle school I always wondered about the cliché of women and the number of shoes they owned. As far as I was concerned all I needed were my steel toe Doc Martins. I never dressed (willingly) in a way that required another pair of shoes. I was all about living and looking by the grunge code as accurately as an average teenager could. Of course I had a pair of dress shoes at the request of my mother for the rare occasions I needed to look “nice” and “pulled together” and a pair of Chuck Taylor’s for gym class; Chuck Taylor’s were acceptable by my standards, if you remember the videos from Nirvana Unplugged, Kurt Cobain was wearing them. I thought as soon as these obligations imposed by adults that required wearing shoes other than my Docs were no longer a part of my life, I wouldn’t need more than one pair of shoes. Now, as an adult, I think about all the shoes I need in order to complete my various outfits. Some outfits remain true to the grunge look, but others are more consistent with the feminine style I’ve acquired during the eternal process of developing into a female adult. For me this process is never fully complete; there is always something new to learn about being a woman and looking the part.
The first pair of shoes I bought of my own accord other than Docs was flip-flops, the summer following 9th grade. I went to the beach with my friends and the only shoes I had were my Docs. This was problematic: every time I wanted to go to the concession stand or bathroom I had to put on and take off my boots which also required tightening and loosening the laces. It was torture going barefoot because the sand was made excruciatingly hot by the sun. When I realized how nice it was to wear flip-flops, how easy they were to slip on and off, how my feet could breathe and not be stifled by the summer heat, not just at the beach, but anywhere I wanted to go, I was sold; flip-flops became a staple of my summer wardrobe. This exposure of my feet must have been one of the first indicators of femininity for me. To this day, I feel more lady-like in the summer.
Then sneakers became an everyday wardrobe choice, a change that also came about from a decision based on practicality. When I began college at Bard, it meant I would be flying more often as opposed to my one annual trip to America during the summers. Steel-toed Doc Martins being the only shoes I owned meant every time I passed through the airport metal detectors I would have to be frisked, sometimes even take off my shoes. I still had my Chuck Taylor’s but for some reason I didn’t think they would suffice. I decided to get something loud and I purchased a pair of bright red sketchers with 2 white diagonal stripes on the side. I loved these shoes and started wearing them more than my docs.
Maybe this is because in college my mind was opening up. I no longer pinned myself into one genre of style. I was listening to different kinds of music, reading more books and thinking more independently all around. I was even wearing a different type of shoe!
Something that became obvious to me at Bard, though, was how girls maintained a feminine appeal yet still maintained their alternative identity. I was not very attractive or feminine. I decided a black pair of flats might slightly manipulate my image as a more feminine one. I purchased a pair from the Athens flea market, however, I don’t think I emitted any strong sense of femininity, as I still looked kind of oafy and heavy.
Meanwhile, my sneaker saga continued. I wore those red sneakers until they stank. Eventually I had to toss them and fished out my Chuck Taylor’s. On the white toe area I had written FUGAWZ because that’s what Kurt Cobain had written on his. Finally making the decision to commit to them I added NOT THE MAMA on the side of the sole of the other shoe referring to the TV series Dinosaurs. They suited me quite well and I wore them every single day occasionally alternating with my flats.
For a while now my history with shoes becomes stagnant. I purchased a very pretty pair of black heels for job interviews having finished college, but I was mostly alternating between my Chucks and flats during winter and Chucks and flip-flops or sandals during summer. By this time I had moved back to Greece. I was at my heaviest and most unattractive.
After some time I was determined to lose weight. I had acquired some disgusting habits. I drank a lot by myself and ate more than I needed. I dropped about 20 lbs just modifying those habits alone. I was aware of my weight loss but didn’t understand how much better I looked until I tried on a white dress at Zara. When I looked in the mirror I was surprised at how flattering the dress was. Of course I was no model, but I really felt good about myself, like I was a new person. I bought that dress and it’s sitting in my closet with the tag still attached. That dress changed my perception of myself and I don’t want to ruin it.
This brought on a whole series of shopping sprees since most of my clothes were too big for me. I realized that I had to match all these changes with shoes. None of my outfits looked truly youthful and feminine because I didn’t have the appropriate shoes to complete them. I guess the sandals were alright, but my flats made me look like a spinster and this was no good because men were finally beginning to show interest in me, one in particular that I liked. This was where my love for Campers began. I don’t think there is any make of shoes that is so geared to my taste and personality. They are simple, stylish, comfortable and feminine but not completely.
My first Campers was a pair of simple black zip-up boots. I wore them almost every day. But I never retired my Chucks. Unfortunately, one day I had to, but at least they went out in style. I had gone on vacation with the man the gentleman I referred to earlier (we were a couple by now) to the island of Samothrace where there is a lot of dangerous, but extraordinarily scenic hiking. On one of these hikes the sole came partly dethatched from the rest of the shoe. I sewed it back together but after a few more hikes they were officially done for. I don’t have the heart to throw them away, but I certainly can’t wear them, and quickly replaced them with a black pair of etnies, a skater brand. Although they are not too feminine, they are entirely comfortable.
There I was, at a certain point of my life and I believed that I had drastically improved on becoming feminine. Until one day my boyfriend expressed a desire that I look more feminine. This made my heart sink. I didn’t think I was gorgeous, but I thought I had some feminine appeal. I protested that one factor keeping me from a feminine appearance was I didn’t have shoes to accommodate such wardrobe choices. Later, I started comparing how I looked, what I wore, what shoes I owned to some of his girl friends (who are gorgeous and feminine). I then decided it was time for another onset of shopping sprees.
My etnies were too big and clonky for some of my wardrobe purchases so I bought a pair of navy blue oasics; thin, narrow sneakers, that reveal the feminine shape of a lady’s foot. During this shopping spree I learned that I had lost more weight which is part of the reason my old clothes were no longer flattering. When I told store-clerks my size (or what it had been) they gave me looks of disbelief and handed me jeans maybe 5 sizes smaller than what I thought I was. This made an impact on me. It was clear how people perceive things differently. I have this permanent image of myself as a heavy-set, meek looking girl and the thin store clerk is telling me to try one size bigger than hers. Within a few purchases, I was looking and feeling like a woman again. And I could tell that he was happy with the change.
Since then I have built up a modest shoe collection. Perhaps I’m still no match for what the stereotype is but I have been more daring in my purchases and have made it a mission to accustom myself to high heels. I try to wear them once a week to work, or cook for my boyfriend in a skimpy outfit with a pair of high heels to make the training fun. And I must confess, I love heels. I used to find them a demeaning and sexist shoe designed by men, now I feel like they make women stronger by making us taller and adapt to pain. I have various heels, but the pair I bought that made me feel I have really become extremely feminine is a pair of pomegranate strappy high heels from nine west. I know its stupid but just holding the bag gave me some sense of empowerment, and not because of the high class profile that Nine West is known for but for the fact that anyone who knows anything about shoes, knows that I had just purchased a pair of real hard-core feminine shoes.
All this history of what shoes I owned at which point in my life came about while I was making a list of shoes I “need” and I thought of myself as a middle school student. I thought of how I looked, what I liked, how I saw the world, what was important to me, etc. I traced it all the way until now where I feel that I need more than I really do. But I don’t think clothes, shoes and style are something strictly materialistic. It’s a form of expression, how you see yourself, and how you want others to see you. And though I may be reveling in this new found femininity of mine, I will never let go of the grungy little middle schooler or overweight college student; underneath the feminine appearance I still hold the same core values of honesty and genuity and in my wardrobe, there will always be shoes to accommodate the earlier versions of me.