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Annie - San Francisco, CA

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Friday
Jul252008

Angels Wanna Wear My...

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.

When I browse shoe stores I am instantly drawn to the red pairs. Maybe it's because red is my favorite color, or because I'm unafraid of wear it, or because I'm kooky and use my colors as neutrals, but there it is and I can't help it. There is just something about red shoes. Is it because they're sort of childish and impractical? Or is it the taboo of being so vampish and attention-grabbing on a body part rife with fetishistic implications? Or perhaps we were just brought up to love them? 


"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

YSL Rive Gauche, Fall 2003Not 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.

Jim Fixx's Onitsuka TigersOf 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 soupรงon 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."

Christian Louboutin Feather Ankle-Wrap D'Orsay for Fall 2008So 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?

Reader Comments (3)

Lovely! A soliloquoy to red shoes
July 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRandall
I have YSL shoes with cherries! Not that style, though. Mine are black velvet with the cherries. I'm appalled to see how long ago those came out. Time flies.
July 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWendyB
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.
July 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterergo baby carrier

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