The first time I was asked to do this, outside of a doctor\’s office, was in the house of a friend I hadn\’t seen in decades. We had played together as children during the years my parents and I spent in Ecuador. Now she was married to an Englishman and living near Philadelphia, and I was going to spend Thanksgiving with them.
This being the 1980s, I had dressed for the occasion: rayon dress with significant shoulder pads, and color-coordinated shoes and panty hose, to give a maximum effect of height and slimness.
I had barely made it through the door, barely taken in the fact that the diminutive 12-year-old had grown a couple of inches and turned into a teensy woman, when I was directed to take off my shoes (my beautiful barely-there-very-high-heeled shoes)…and was handed a pair of snowshoe-like white slippers to replace them.
They might as well have asked me to take off my dress and sit on the sofa in my slip. Without my shoes I felt utterly vulnerable and clumsy, and every time I glanced down at those white slippers I felt like a housewife ( in the negative sense, god forgive me) caught with her hair in curlers.
My hosts were generous and kind, but I never did relax in their house. Their floors looked elegant, but I didn\’t, and guess which I cared more about?
Here in Vermont, where unpaved roads and driveways mean that the great outdoors often trails indoors, I have friends who, winter or summer, the minute they step into my house take off their footgear. \”Please, there\’s no need!\” I assure them. But they insist.
I can deal with optional shoe removal. Compulsory shoe removal, on the other hand, makes me nuts. I build my outfits from the feet up: footwear to legwear to top, so if you tell me to remove my shoes, the whole thing topples.
I went to a party recently, an all-female potluck followed by dancing (what the ancient Greeks used to call a Bacchanal). I showed up in my best pair of boots, tights, and a dress, only to be greeted by a sign directing me to take off my shoes. I complied, and entered the living room feeling dowdy in a skirt that, without the height of the boots, seemed to drag me down. I skated around the floor in my tights, feeling the cold seep up through the soles of my feet. But the worst was yet to come. After dinner, which I ate with my toes curled around the chair rung, the dancing began.
Have you ever tried to dance on a slick wooden floor, in stocking feet? Pas possible! When you dance, your shoes are supposed to help you grip the floor, not skate over it–hence the suede soles on ballroom dancing shoes. I did a few gyrations in my tights–the thought of runs and splinters ever present in my mind–and then withdrew, feeling miffed and missing my armor.
To me, asking guests to remove their shoes is like asking them to help wash the dishes. Human gatherings inevitably produce mess: tracked-in dirt, dirty dishes, stained table cloths. If one invites friends over for a meal, the pleasure offered is not just in the food, but in the freedom from responsibility for the ensuing mess.
So to my friends I say: track mud onto my floors, dirty my dishes, stain my napkins ad libitum! Think nothing of it: you\’re a guest in my house. And I\’ll do the same, when I\’m invited to yours.