Shoe shine or boot camp?

Much has been made of a survey by "Woman and Home" magazine that the "average woman" over 40 in the UK has 19 pairs of shoes, with 5 per cent of women having more than 100 pairs. Nothing beats a woman’s desire to show off a fresh pair of heels – Britain – Times Online is a typical write-up.

However, I would respectfully suggest that the readers of "Woman and Home", a magazine of which I’ve never heard, might be quite likely to over-represent the upper echelons of the shoe-owning fraternity.

Shoes have always been something of an elusive dream to me, as I have had very big feet since I was born, which became larger than the biggest standard women’s shoe size when I was about 14. These days it is easier to buy large-size shoes than it was when I was of an age where I cared about these things. But actually, I never cared that much, preferring to categorise shoes with make-up, jewelry and all those other mysteries of femininity that I never quite understood or became aware of. (Oddly, as my next sister was rather adept at all that kind of stuff, so I am not sure why it all passed me by.)

Marginally more interesting than the magazine survey, though, was a review by Joanna Trollope of all people in last Saturday’s Times of a book called "Shoes: a History from Sandals to Sneakers". This book purports to be about the cultural significance of shoes through the ages. Hmm.

Prompted by this lunacy, The Times roped in its fashion editor Lisa Armstrong to list her favourite shoe books. Lisa Armstrong is the woman who criticised Margaret Beckett’s dress sense in several pages and a cover story in the Times upon her (Beckett’s) appointment as Foreign Secretary (let’s get our priorities right, after all). A sad day for women journalists as role models.

So what are Lisa’s top five shoe books? Several Grimm’s fairy tales (Cindarella, Elves and Shoemaker); Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons; Ballet Shoes (and other similar) by Noel Streatfeild; Tess of the d’Urbervilles (that one made me think a bit — Lisa means the bit where Tess loses her pair of boots); and two I’d never heard of: Drawings by Mahlo Blahnik and How to Walk in High Heels by Camilla Morton.

What would be your choice of a great shoe book? I’d go for:

First on the Moon by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. ("one small step….")

The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum

Journals of Captain Scott ( "I may be some time….")

Hop o’my thumb (also known as "seven league boots")

Walkabout by James Vance Marshall (I loved this book as a young girl — it was one of Peter Weir’s first movies, maybe his very first, starring Jenny Agutter.)

Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault

and the complete works of Alfred Wainwright (the Lake District guide)

Any better ideas? Or are these suggestions shoe- (oops, shoo!) -ins?

15 thoughts on “Shoe shine or boot camp?

  1. You go, Maxine. Well, here it is: I wear men’s sneakers and nothing else. (I mean, I’m not naked: I don’t wear regular shoes. Ever.) I don’t wear make-up and never have, and I mean *anything*. Ever. not once.

  2. Unfortunately my feet are a size 3.5 and roughly cuboid. It is my constant quest to find shoes that don’t hurt. The only ones that come close are a pair of size 6 trainers – laced up so tightly that they don’t fall off my feet. I really can’t think of a single book that I’ve read that features shoes except maybe the mermaid who gave up the sea to walk on land and found that every footstep felt as if she was stepping on needles. I guess she was wearing a pair of badly fitting shoes.

  3. It hasn’t seemed to trouble me for the last year or two, but for a long time, even decades, I’ve suffered from plantars fasciitis–much of that time not knowing what the trouble was. I seem to have hit on the right sneaker/insert combination to make it work. My regular shoes appear to me as torturous devices, and “womenly” shoes would be just awful, even if they matched my sweatpants.

  4. I love this foot talk, because I can whup you all with foot size. My feet are, conservatively, size tens.
    Maxine, I’ve had such a problem finding shoes I like. I remember once I saw the loveliest pair of royal blue shoes. I asked the clerk if they had them in my size and her first response was “I’ll look, but I don’t think they make them that big..” I guess she worried about how that sounded because when she came back she said “I didn’t mean that your feet are BIG, just that they’re SQUARE.” (I felt so much better.) So, I inherited my father’s mean, thin little lips and my most-Irish grandfather’s farmer feet. (The Irish grandfather couldn’t buy ready-made shoes at all – I think his feet were freakishly large) I feel like Mr. Potato Head with a bucket of mismatched parts!

  5. Ah, Susan, but are the Canadian size 10s the “US” size 10 or the “UK” size 10? In US sizing, I’m an 11 — which is why I prefer to stick to the UK “9” as it doesn’t sound so bad! (Sharon J in the US would be a 13.)
    Interesting that we all have foot “issues”!

  6. I’ve never understood this obsession with shoes most women seem to have. I’ve only got a few pairs and besides, I prefer boots. By the way, my shoe size is UK 6.

  7. Shoe novels: Albert Murray has a great novel (really, everyone should read it) called “The Seven-League Books”; Colson Whitehead’s latest novel “Apex Hides the Hurt” features a protagonist who loses a toe to gangrene; and (this one is most apropos, I think–but I actually feel sure there must be a TON of shoe-related fictions, esp. if including vaguely fetishy things) Elizabeth McCracken’s excellent novel “The Giant’s House” is about a freakishly tall teenage boy who gets tapped among other things as possible advertiser for a shoe store with one of those old-school foot x-raying machines–only of course his foot health is absolutely awful, partly due to difficulty of getting right size of shoes. Maxine, better read this one, that surgery of yours sounds awful & this will make you wince in sympathy! Oh, lots of novels about Chinese foot-binding…
    Can I also take this opportunity to recommend Dansko clogs as THE MOST COMFORTABLE SHOES IN THE WORLD? Also they’re unisex so really they have all sizes…

  8. Freudian typo, Jenny!
    The foot op was really a breeze: one does not have many nerve endings in one’s feet. I was in constant pain for years beforehand, it has been wonderful since.
    Thanks for the boot/book recommendations!

  9. I too have shoe problems. Years ago, I was advised a podiatrist to stop wearing court shoes, as the fronts were cutting into my feet on every step and shortening my tendons. If I continued, I’d need surgery, he said.
    And I love this one. My left is halfway between a 5.5 and a 6, with my right the shorter, at between 5 and 5.5. Relatively manageable perhaps, but these shoe shops will put the right one on display, which means it’s already softened and stretched…
    One thing I’ve learned after many shoe purchase disasters – don’t buy in sales. They’re never on your feet long enough and the carpet is the thickest in the store. It’s only later you realise that (1) you can feel every stone underneath and (2) they’re not even comfortable!
    Maxine, there’s a shop I’ve been to in Bath that has now opened on Oxford Street, I believe. They started out specialising in variable calf width fitting boots and now do it for shoes also (shoe width), also up to a size 9. I bought a lovely pair of boots from them last year (in the sale and online after trying on in the shop, which did not have the stock at hand at the time). If you’re interested, this is the link:

  10. My biggest shoe problem is that I can’t be bothered to go shopping for them (i hate shopping in general actually). So I have 1 pair of pink converse trainers, 1 broken pair of big black boots and 1 pair of rope-soled sandals.
    Mostly, though, I like to walk around in bare feet.

  11. Sian, I’m with you. I really don’t like clothes or shoe shopping, but years of living in NYC taught me that comfortable shoes are *de rigueur* if you’re going to walk all the time. Once I find a pair that fits, I hang onto them forever — resoling and resoling.
    Sadly, after having two kids, my shoe size went from 7.5 to 8.5 American (and I’m only 5 ft. 2.5 inches tall), so I finally had to part with some of the resoled comfort shoes of the ’80s. Sigh. I still miss a certain pair of red shoes I used to dance in — often to David Bowie’s “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues” song.
    Recently, however, I have discovered an absolutely wonderful brand of shoes that I suggest to everyone who walks a lot: Merrell’s. They have them in leather and also as suede mocs in a variety of colors. I adore them.
    Shoe stories? Every chick-lit novel I’ve ever seen describes shoes and clothes (perhaps why I only read them if I have to review them). The exemplar is probably Jennifer Weiner’s _In Her Shoes_ which was also made into a rather cute movie with Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, and Shirley MacLaine.
    G’night ladies. Keep on walkin’!

  12. If you were going to buy a golf club, you wouldn’t walk into a store and buy the first one you see, would you? Of course
    not; especially if you want to improve your golf game! You’ll want to hold the club, take some practice swings, hit some
    balls if the store has a practice spot, and look at the price, of course. If you are considering buying running shoes,
    you need to go through a similar process and take the time to find the perfect shoe.

  13. I wear a size 5 and many men have commented and how much they “love my tiny feet.” I’ve even met men who say they wont date women with big feet

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