Good-looking shoes–the kind that add height and subtract weight, taper the line from hip to toe, and sound the final chord to an outfit–were the last plank I clung to from the shipwreck of my youth. Until this week, my only concession to a painful, soon-to-be-replaced hip was to wear ballet-like flats with petal-thin soles. Before that, I wore shoes with heels a couple of inches high. And before that, stilettos.
I come by my shoe fixation honestly. In her 90s, my diminutive paternal grandmother toddled on the cobbled streets of Barcelona in high heeled shoes with a strap across the instep. I, on the other hand, diagnosed with flat feet, clumped around in lace-up boots while my classmates gloried in their patent leather Mary Janes. “When the child is old enough to wear high heels,” the doctor assured my mother, “the arches will improve.” So when I turned sixteen my mother, who forbade make-up of any kind, tolerated kitten heels, which I wore daily as my sole badge of grown-up femininity.
In the barefoot 1960s I wore wedge-heeled espadrilles, which were succeeded in the 70s by history’s weirdest footwear, wavy-soled Famolares (“walk better in waves” was the company\’s motto). In the 1980s, when career women walked to work in shoulder-padded suits and tennis shoes, I stuck to heels. I would trudge up College Hill in what my daughters called the shoes of death, lugging a briefcase full of books and corrected exams. The trip from home to office and back was close to four miles, and I walked it proudly and even briskly, every day. As the years passed I resigned myself to slightly lower, thicker heels. But except for swimming, I always wore heels. Even my bedroom slippers had little heels.
All this came crashing down last week when my physical therapist looked down at my ballet flats, suppressed a giggle, and wrote a prescription for athletic shoes that she promised would lessen the pain. I have sacrificed much to vanity in my life, but faced with a disintegrating hip I decided to take the therapist’s advice and get some reasonable shoes.
And now here they are, at the end of my legs, the proper shoes for my age and circumstance, a blight on the landscape. If my spike-heeled shoes were the footwear equivalent, in looks and sexiness if not in speed, of a sports car, my flats were modest sedans. My new athletic shoes–a size larger and wider than I normally wear, shock-absorbent, padded, cuffed, their soles inflated like snow tires –are the equivalent of a pair of SUVs.
Also, they pose wardrobe dilemmas. I can’t wear them with skirts, leggings, narrow pants, or even jeans because they drag down the look. Ballooning below my ankles, for all their lighter-than-air technology they make me look like a duck, an elephant, a whale.
The only thing I can possibly wear them with is sweats.
Looking on the bright side, however, since I’m supposed to wear these locomotion enablers 24/7, and I only own a single pair of sweats, I’ll have an excuse to go shopping. Online, of course. But that will not be a problem, since fit is not a factor with sweats.
And I have to admit that, when I go for a walk, the SUVs on my feet make me feel less like the Little Mermaid than those lissome ballet flats did. Possibly, even, the relaxed look on my face somewhat compensates for the clunkiness of my footwear.
Did I mention that I also have a cane?