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Impractical shoes

I found myself standing on one side of a sea of a chai latte river, wondering how I’d gotten myself into this pickle.

I knew I shouldn’t have packed the impractical shoes.

The first pair of really impractical shoes I remember owning was when I was in high school. Every girl was buying Candies boots. They were—if I remember correctly—cowboy-styled shoes with an early-80s update. Mine were blond leather with wood-grain heels.

The heels were very, very high.

Manolo Blahnik

If I could, would I wear ridiculously high-heeled shoes? Oh, yeah, I admit that I’d be happy to do it if I thought it wouldn’t cripple me for life!

Of course, the heels were high enough on a typical girl, but at that point my feet had finally reached a size 5, the smallest of women’s sizes. Before that, I’d shopped in the kids’ department. So 4-inch heels on my feet were not comparable to 4-inch heels on average women’s feet.

Average women were standing on the balls of their feet. I was nearly en pointe.

The first day I wore those boots to school, I stubbornly refused to learn the obvious lesson: I was not cut out to wear impractical shoes. I wore them again, even though I could hardly walk and was in major pain by the end of the day.

Finally, my track coach decided it for me. He announced at our first practice of the spring that all team members were forbidden to wear high heels because of the risk of damage to the tendons in the foot.

That decided it. I went to flats. Soon after I discovered punk and adopted black boots as my shoe of choice, and impractical shoes were in my past.

Like many women who have had babies, my feet have gone through some changes. They’re hardly longer—by length I should be wearing a size 5 and a half at this point—but they are wider and more picky than ever. After a lecture from another man who’d never donned impractical shoes—this time a podiatrist—I resorted to ordering EEE-width shoes on the Internet rather than letting my local shoe seller talk me into their cute, much too narrow latest styles.

But before the podiatrist, and well before the river of chai latte, was my final purchase of impractical shoes. It was at my local shoe seller that I got talked into them. They are cute. The heels are modest, probably an inch and a half, and I have to admit, they make my legs look great. Even though my joints forced me to give up running years ago, those heels did their job and made all the right convex and concave formations appear on my legs. And given how “low” the heels were, I could even walk in them. Even better, my shoe seller explained, they were made by a company that also made sneakers, and the sole was made to be more comfortable and better for the feet.

More comfortable and better for the feet, certainly, than shoes designed by Manolo Blahnik, but torture for my poor stunted, spread out dogs. I bought the shoes, wore them a couple of times, then put them high up in the closet.

Along comes my mystery weekend—so mysterious I didn’t yet know that it would involve a river of chai latte flowing down Van Ness Avenue. For my birthday my husband announced he was taking me away—somewhere—and we would do…something. He said, “bring mostly casual clothes, but one nice outfit.”

Now, men, any woman can tell you, are not all alike. However, there are some truths that apply to most straight men, and one of them is that they don’t understand how delicate the task of donning the right clothing for the right occasion is. Men generally have three levels of clothing: scruffy/play, nice/work, and wedding/funeral. Men’s clothing is designed with this trinity in mind. Men who enjoy dressing well might own khakis for casual, trousers and a button up shirts for work, and a nice suit for other occasions, happy and somber.

My own husband falls a little to the left of that scale. He works in an industry where common work attire seldom rises above a somewhat clean t-shirt, so he has few occasions to worry about whether his dress is suitable for the occasion.

For me, however, what I choose to wear is tied into what I’m doing, who I’m seeing, where I might be going, and what mood I’m in. Certainly, when I had little kids I ended up in jeans and t-shirts almost exclusively, but now that they’re older I spend a bit more time figuring out what “feels” right to wear before I get dressed.

Packing for my mystery chai latte adventure, therefore, sent me into a bit of a tizzy. And in the midst of that tizzy, what did I do but pack those darn impractical shoes. I packed them even after I took them down off the high shelf, stepped into them, and said out loud, “Who am I kidding? I’ll never wear these again.”

And into the suitcase they went.

The mystery weekend turned out to be a lovely, child-free couple of days spent in San Francisco. The nice clothing was for an event at Davies Symphony Hall. And as I dressed for it, I realized I needed to give those impractical shoes another spin. I was not yet thoroughly convinced that I couldn’t wear them.

So there we were, walking down Van Ness Avenue, almost to Davies, when the river appeared before us. It flowed down a side street, turned the corner, and spilled onto Van Ness. It was a gorgeous milky brown, the color of my favorite drink. And thank goodness, it didn’t smell of what it was actually composed of.

It did, however, pose a problem. How to get over to Davies across the flowing river of muck? We ended up having to walk, along with other symphony goers, down the middle of Van Ness, the cars creeping by us in the far left lane, we in the middle, the chai river hogging most of the right.

Perhaps these shoes really do have a sole designed like a sneaker, but let’s be serious here, high heels are not made for comfort. They’re made because they form all those nice convex and concave contours in any woman’s leg. Those of us who think we’re too skinny see flesh pop and curve. Those of us who think we have to much flesh enjoy the definition of our muscles.

The river dwindled to a creek then a stream, and my husband—wearing his sneakers even to the symphony because he’s no fool—could certainly have jumped it. But in my impractical shoes, I had to wait until I could step daintily over the sewage and onto the sidewalk. Because of my uncomfortable shoes, I had to walk even longer than I would have.

I swore that when I got home, I’d send them to the Goodwill. But when I got home, there was their nice, comfy box waiting for them. I put the shoes back in the box and left it on the floor of my closet.

I’ll give them away to someone who will appreciate them, I thought.

There they sat, until one day I sighed, picked up the box, and placed back on that high shelf.

Posted in Culture, Sexual Politics.


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