I am a 20-year-old woman. I am about to be a junior in college, and I have no high heeled shoes. None. Zero. Nada.
Especially not these, why would you put that on an innocent shoe??
Not that I don’t like high heels. They make my legs look great, and they carry a certain elegance, regardless of concerning undertones. But I have to walk a couple of miles a day, and if I wore anything higher than a two-inch heel I’d be taller than half the guys I know. There’s a bigger reason, though, that all of my shoes are sensible, ugly affairs. That reason is my mother.
I have big feet. I’m not exaggerating for dramatic purposes – I have US size 10.5 feet. (The average American woman wears a size 8.) And my feet are flat. One of my best friends in the world, despite being a couple inches taller than me, has small feet with perfect toes and perfect, high arches. I don’t have arches. And finally, unlike my mother, whose toes descend in order of height from long big toe to short little toe, my big toe is about half an inch shorter than the toe next to it – a dominant phenotype, by the way, but I so rarely saw other girls’ feet growing up that I felt like a freak.
So I inherited my dad’s feet, basically. The Bigfoot gene goes at least back to my grandmother’s family. (When I was eleven, I met my great-aunt for the first time. My feet were already size 10, and being fairly tall for my age, I was hoping against hope that my big feet might mean a tall, graceful figure in my future. My great-aunt, who never broke 5’6”, told me, “I have size 13 feet,” and that was the end of my dreams of tallness.)
My dad, who was fond of teasing, told me I’d be good at swimming. My mom, who’d been a dancer in her youth, told me I’d be a good ballerina. “Big feet are a strong foundation,” she said. And she sent me to school in white women’s tennis shoes instead of the sparkly pink Converse all my friends had.
Maybe because my parents had had me in their very, very late thirties, I was always sensibly dressed in elementary school. I wore denim shorts and skirts and souvenir T-shirts that hid what little figure I had. One of my clearest memories from fifth grade is standing outside, wearing a straight skirt, a big shirt with a cheetah face on it, and the ubiquitous white tennis shoes, while the popular athlete I had a crush on giggled with his friend, occasionally stealing glances in my direction.
(All of my friends were talented writers and artists and I, easily the least talented of the bunch, had about as much of a chance with a “jock” as I did of winning the national spelling bee. Forgive me, I had only just discovered hormones and was mystified as to what they were and how to control them.)
My very first pair of “high” heels (two inches, tops) was for my sixth grade dance. I’m still not entirely sure that my parents were happy with me wearing them, but wear them I did. They were strappy sequined sandals and it was so weird, looking down and seeing my big painted toenails instead of the usual black or white tennis shoes (I went to a school that had uniforms) that even a decade later, they are ingrained in my memory.
Fast forward with me a little to the last few weeks before my freshman year of college. I was reading all the Facebook posts from other freshmen and came across a thread about what sort of clothes to pack. Every single other girl (or so it seemed) was talking about packing “formal, semi-formal, casual, and work heels,” and I had absolutely no idea what any of those were. Furthermore, I didn’t understand why one would pack so many heels if one had to walk or bike everywhere, as most Rice students do. Would you wear tennis shoes to walk or bike in, and then change once you got to your destination? Wouldn’t wearing white athletic shoes with a fancy dress seem terribly gauche (this was before the word “gauche” triggered unwanted orgo flashbacks)? I didn’t know. And when I went to college I packed exactly one pair of wedges, cloth white-and-blue calico uppers, that I wore to matriculation and then never touched again. Even at my very first semi-formal, I wore boots and stockings with my lace dress. Pity my poor date (“date” here means “eating partner”.)
I’m on the right. Duh.
So what’s the deal? Anyone who knows me in real life knows I buy and wear my fair share of flashy, trashy party clothes. Why wouldn’t I wear $15.99 shoes to go along with them?
As I said before, I have my mother to thank (not blame). Shoes play a more intimate role than other clothes in one’s well-being, and really, social and academic prowess. You can’t stay as long as you’d like at a party if your shoes are rubbing holes in your feet, and you’re going to have a hard time walking half a mile to class the next day (I’m looking at you, Baker.) By keeping me in boring, plain, sensible shoes for so long, my mom instilled a love of podiatric comfort in me. And thanks to friends, style and etiquette guides, and other outside influences, I’ve now learned that it’s entirely possible for pretty flats – and even high heels – to be as comfortable as a pair of slippers. But those shoes are likely to be expensive, and a purchase I have to consider carefully. I guess those classy black or nude pumps and flats are going to be ever more representative of my wardrobe as I get older.
But not yet.