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February 11, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Photo by Jonathan Stephanoff
My feet are snobs. They will not let just any shoe grasp their arches. My left foot and right foot have developed a love for beauty in shoes. And because of their fetish with the fine artisanship that adorn them, my collection of shoes has grown from a fair beginning of two kitten-heel pumps and three pairs of Gap flats to 18 pairs of high-heels and 11 pairs of boots. But who needs floor space or rent money when you have scrunch boots and cowboy boots and vintage Spanish heels and sky-high stilettos to cover the floorboards?
That’s right: no one.
I used to consider this obsession for the lovely little vanities we put on our feet as an addiction. But my attachment to shoes does not warrant the loaded suffix “-aholic” because this affliction I have is, in fact, love.
There was a beginning to this accumulation. I once owned a pair of wooden clogs, so I cannot honestly say my sense of stylish footwear was an innate part of my being. That beginning was in a pair of yellow BCBG heels. I was in a second-hand store when I was 18 years old perusing the racks of vintage blazers and faded designer jeans. As I made my way to the dressing room with an armful of used goodies, I spotted the half hidden shelf of shoes for sale. The selection was menial: worn black Mary Janes, ancient engraved cowboy boots and scuffed pale pink flats. But sitting directly at eye-level were a pair of gorgeous, delicate yellow heels. They were diamonds among rhinestones. The color intrigued me. Yellow stands out wherever it is, regardless of whether it is painted on a gorgeous pair of well-made, designer-label, sky-high lookers or not. My free hand instantly went to them, I gasped and let my hand sweep over their canary-colored leather, four-inch heel and pointed toe. I knew they were coming home with me.
I returned to my dorm room. I set them gently on the bookshelf decorated with coffee mugs stacked on top of each other as opposed to a row of textbooks and looked at them. And looked at them. It would be nearly a month before I decided my feet were worthy of their presence. They entranced me because they came into my life when I had recently fled the nest and represented the grown-up me. They were graceful, and they were mine and mine alone. An itch was born in me that led to not only an appreciation for beautiful shoes but also affection for them for which many have laughed at me over the years. “Exactly how many shoes do you have?” a friend once asked.
“A few,” I said from my spot on a bench of the Macy’s shoe department.
“So why do you need these? Where will you wear these shoes?” she asked rationally, indicating the five-inch, platform purple suede peep-toe heels in my hands.
And like any good addict, I made an excuse, a defense for my indulgence: “I don’t have any exactly like this. I can wear them anywhere. I need them.”
I became the girl with the shoes. From that first pair of truly tall heels came more. I also became the girl who carried a pair of flats in her purse before I would bring out my cared-for delicacies and let them fend for themselves against the cruel, dirty asphalt. I would ask to stop as I lean against the brick wall around the corner from our destination for support. I replaced the worn flats on my feet with the four-inch suede, knee-high boots cradled in my arms. Those traveling with me would laugh and question my reasoning, but they just didn’t know love. And love means never having to say you’re sorry a la Love Story. Actually it does, especially if you subject a favorite pair to the rain and muck until they are unrecognizable from debris.
Along with taking an old toothbrush and soap to a pair that has endured a head-on collision with a crusty step or rain-soaked pavement, I have also tended to a wounded pair of heels with super glue where a rip has formed on the toe box. But along with the scuffed, some pairs of my 18 have never been worn. Save me a trip to and from the kitchen. Their stitching is too fine, the hand-woven laces too beautiful for me to take out. These are my trophy wives, and they remain unworn.
I might not be jaded enough to think that it is a real addiction, but shoes do call to me and something inside just makes me answer and I buy them, and I give them a home and love. When I wear them, not only does my 5-foot-2-inch frame get a lift to put me at eye-level with more of the general population, but also they make me feel a little bit special. To some, they might just be items thrown on cold feet to warm them up or hide a past prime pedicure. But to me, they let me play dress up for a moment or a day. And when someone compliments them, I feel like a proud parent and I thank them. After all, they are beautiful—super glue or no super glue.