There is an old saying that goes "red shoes are only for children and whores..." Well, I'm neither one nor the other but I still love me some red footwear! In fact, the statement runs entirely contrary to the mindset of a true fashion-lover; why be so limiting and so judgmental in one single statement? This sounds like one of those mid-century fashion dogmas a la "no white after Labor Day" and "handbags and shoes must match"... Ugh.
"Oh I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused. But since their wings have got rusted, you know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes." -Elvis Costello
Not one single woman I know would turn her nose up at the ruby slippers, for instance. Talk about the shoes that launched a thousand ships! From the moment the Wicked Witch of the East's striped legs curled up and her shoes found their way onto Dorothy's feet, we all sat up and paid attention to our shoe wardrobes. Sadly, our own collections do not transmit in such technicolor glory, but every pair of red shoes we own lends itself to this fantasy. By the way, did you know that the magical slippers in the Wizard of Oz were meant to be silver, like in the book? The legend goes that Louis B. Mayer paid a visit to the set and realizing the power of the new technicolor format, he made the slippers ruby instead. Mr. Mayer, if you only knew...Next year will mark the 70th anniversary of this classic film and to celebrate it, twenty fashion designers have been invited by Warner Brothers and Swarovski to design recreations of the famous ruby slippers. I'm never a big fan of these kinds of "redesigns", especially where they concern something so classic and iconic - it's just never as fabulous as the original. But, when I read about this in last week's New York Times, I started to think about the far-reaching influences of the ruby slippers in particular, and red shoes in general.
Of course there's blue suede and black patent, but the most iconic shoes are the red ones. It makes sense since most every culture in the world uses red for celebrations and as a symbol of luck and happiness. It is thought that as humans, the color red encourages us to action and confidence, while it protects us from fears and anxiety. Add all of this to the power and confidence inherent in a well-made, beautifully-designed pair of shoes and you come up with a heady cocktail indeed.
But it's not just "fashion" shoes that are iconic; Jim Fixx launched an athletic revolution with his cherry red Onitsuka Tigers on the cover of The Complete Book of Running - a seminal work in the world of personal fitness. Think about it, without those sleek red beauties, would there have been Jazzercise or Jane Fonda Workout or spin class or bootcamp? I grant you it's a reach, but I'd be willing to bet that a lot of the world's current health and well-being is owed to a pair of red sneakers from 1977.
And then there's The Red Shoes. This stunning Powell and Pressburger film from 1948 has probably inspired most of today's professional dancers and performing artists. Based upon a Hans Christian Andersen story about a girl who sees some red shoes in a shop window and has to have them, only to learn too late that the shoes are possessed and she will never be able to take them off again. Or, as Boris Lermontov explains in the film:
""The Ballet of The Red Shoes" is from a fairy tale by Hans Andersen. It is the story of a young girl who is devoured with an ambition to attend a dance in a pair of Red Shoes. She gets the shoes and goes to the dance. For a time, all goes well and she is very happy. At the end of the evening she is tired and wants to go home, but the Red Shoes are not tired. In fact, the Red Shoes are never tired. They dance her out into the street, they dance her over the mountains and valleys, through fields and forests, through night and day. Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on."A metaphor for one's commitment to their art and passion, with more than a soupçon of a warning from Doctor Faustus. The story presents a choice: do you choose art, or do you choose life? As Lermontov sternly tells one of his dancers: "You cannot have it both ways. A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never."
So what is a girl to do? On the one foot, red shoes are powerful and glamorous while on the other foot they're troubling and leading the wearer into mischief. The beauty of this connundrum is that red shoes carry both messages; they're beauty and beast in one. Totally intrepid and not for the passive wearer, they demand attention, action, and daring, even if that daring can cause some problems. Above all they require a certain amount of commitment to oneself and one's fashion prowess. You want to wear the red shoes - you don't want them to wear you.
Red shoes make me happy. It's all of the messaging and metaphor of innocence, sex, art, glamor, and life rolled into a single pair of shoes. But more than that, they seem to just smile at you from the shoe box as if to say "you know when you put me on you're going to have a fabulous day..." A box of promise just waiting to happen. Isn't it nice to know you own a pair?