I enjoy looking through my file of stories from more than 20 years as a journalist. This week, I came across a double-page spread I did for the Sunday Herald Sun, ‘Hot in 2006’, published on January 1 of that year.
I had categories for people, fashion, and—my favourite from a retrospective perspective—gadgets. This year we would, I reported breathlessly, be able to buy the new-style Sony Walkman MP3 player in “summer’s hottest colour, purple”. I did qualify that colour choice in the fashion section, saying, “Purple shoes will be a nanna look by next year—unless you’re Madonna”. Pick of the technology was the Sony Ericsson W900i 3G Walkman phone that could store—wait for it—240 songs!
In the fashion section, I noted that everyone on trend was wearing instant bronzer with sparkly highlights: “In a couple of years we’ll say ‘so yesterday, so early 21st century’,” I remarked.
On the facing page, ‘People’, I commented that Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban were tipped to marry, and that Eric Bana was a favourite to win an Oscar for Munich. They did, but he didn’t, though I still reckon Eric is one of Australia’s best actors and an awfully good bloke, too. I interviewed him lots of times in the 1990s, and he was so down-to-earth and genuine. I remember one time I had to attend an entertainment industry function and shortly beforehand, I found that my house had been broken into. When he and his partner (now wife) Rebecca found this out at the function, they immediately insisted I come to stay at their place so I didn’t have to go home alone. I explained that my dad was on his way and would stay with me, but their concern was very touching.
But back to the trends of 2006. Interestingly, there is not one mention of an Apple product. Then again, this was before the iPhone came out. Instead, we were drooling over the T-Mobile Sidekick II with phenomenal 6Mb email account.
My almond-toed boots: on trend, but always uncomfortable
When I see some of the lengths fashion-conscious women of the past went to to look à la mode—tightly laced corsets, skirts so wide they couldn’t sit on a chair and so on—I wonder how (and even why) they did it. I’m glad we’re now emancipated from such follies.
But there’s a fashion item women still wear every day that’s every bit as ridiculous, restricts movement, results in chronic lifelong pain and causes crippling injuries that sometimes have to be operated on.
It’s the shoe.
Look at your shoes right now. Chances are, if you’re a woman, the shape of your shoe is nothing like that of your natural foot. For example, feet don’t extend to a point with the longest toe being in the middle (a shoe shape marketed as “almond toed”); the inside of your foot is actually straight (or should be, if you haven’t damaged it with faulty footwear), then curves down and round to the small toe; your heels are not 5cm or 10cm higher than the ball of your foot.
While we can make some allowances for fashion – some padding and rouging and other trickery – shoes are taking it beyond the extreme.
Shoemakers are stuck: if they made lasts that truly followed the shape of the human foot, perhaps not many people would buy the resulting product. This is because of the influence of media and popular culture: everywhere, there is reinforcing “evidence” that assures us that all women are obsessed with shoes (Carrie Bradshaw and the Sex And the City crowd have a lot to answer for); that high heels and pointy toes are attractive, feminine and make you look slimmer; that “sensible” shoes are for nanas and they age you before your time.
I’ll tell you what’s ageing: aching feet all day that make you purse your lips and frown.
Yes, I went through my teens, 20s and 30s addicted to fashion, poring over high-fashion magazines, and spending all my spare cash on clothes and shoes. I wore high heels every day, even to the beach.
But I saw the light some time ago. Still, I have some footwear that I shouldn’t have bought.
In this area, men generally make better choices than women. Ironically, pointy-toed high heeled shoes were a male fashion in the 17th century (starting earlier as riding shoes), but somehow changed sexes along the way (cuban heels and cowboy boots excepted). Now men generally make much better choices on footwear than women do.
I was waiting on the train platform the other day with about a hundred other commuters, and I took a look at the shoes people were wearing.
I know men sometimes wear pointy shoes, or shoes that are too small, narrow or ill cut. However, the vast majority of men on that train platform were wearing shoes they could, at least, walk in—run in, if they had to—that wouldn’t put them in danger of falling over, twisting an ankle or developing bunions.
That night, not many of those men would have aching feet because of their shoes, I mused. And they looked good: cool sneakers, chunky workmanlike boots, suede slip-ons, even black patent leather shoes to go with a big-city job.
And what were the women wearing? Some, granted, were in comfortable shoes, even some of the younger women: I’ve read that flatties are in again. But most were in high heels, some so high and thin they could barely walk; and pointed toes; and toes that curved upwards slightly; and enormous stacked heels that made them look like something out of a 1980s glam rock band (though I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing—I loved those bands).
There wouldn’t be a high-heel wearer alive who hadn’t got her heel caught in lawn, or a drain, or other trap multiple times, and tripped, fallen or had to remove the shoe to extract it.
Our own former Prime Minister had two well documented and highly embarrassing shoe moments, both of which would not have happened if she were wearing better equipped footwear. One was on a visit to India, when the PM’s heel became lodged in the lawn and she actually tumbled right over in front of the cameras. I cringe for her every time I see the clip.
As Gillard explained it at the following press conference, “For men who get to wear flat shoes all day every day: if you wear a heel, it can get embedded in soft grass, then when you pull your foot out, the rest of it doesn’t come, and the rest of it is as you saw.”
She also lost a shoe when she was extracted (in a ridiculous manner, I thought) from a situation involving Australia Day protesters in 2012 that her security team had deemed dangerous. In this case, she wasn’t even able to retrieve her shoe and had to leave it behind. It ended up with the Aboriginal tent embassy of long-term protesters in Canberra (they’ve been there 40 years). Check out the sensationalised report from the time:
Such is the power of this fashion “statement”, that even a deeply committed feminist and pioneer such as Gillard (our first female PM) couldn’t bring herself to defy its dictates.
It’s hard to buy women’s shoes that are truly comfortable and never hurt no matter how much you walk in them. My own workaday comfortable shoes have been wonderful, though they were so soft they offered little support. Anyway, they have worn out and I need to buy new ones. We have recently moved and I was delighted to see that there was a specialist shoe shop in our village with row upon row of comfortable but attractive-looking shoes.
They’re expensive, but I don’t mind paying extra for shoes that look good but won’t hurt me.
Well, I tried on every pair of shoes in my size in that shop, much to the exasperation of the assistant. Nothing came close to comfortable. She assured me they would “give” and that I would wear them in. But in my experience, shoes that pinch when you buy them still pinch in the same places when you’ve worn them in.
I noticed that one brand that purports to be a wide and comfortable fitting had those pointy toes that are “on trend” at the moment. The UK online site I used to buy my shoes from calls them “almond toes” and has put them on all its ankle boots.
I questioned the assistant about the “almond toe”, saying, but isn’t this brand supposed to be health-conscious? Do they have any round toes?”
She shook her head, “No, their boots are all pointed this year.”
Well, Mr or Ms Shoemaker, this is what I have to say to you: “A foot is not an almond.”
In one of my favourite blogs, Coming of Age, by the Australian journalist Adele Horin, I read recently that the epitome of dowdy, middle-aged dressing is a long beige cardigan. Oh no, I thought, I love a long beige cardie. In fact, I was wearing mine as I was reading that blog.
When I was growing up in New Zealand, you didn’t hear the term “beige” for clothes: it was called “fawn”. Beige has become synonymous with boring, but I’ve worn beige all my adult life—or colours that approach it—including in my late teens, 20s and 30s, when I was considered quite a snazzy dresser and spent most of my disposable income on clothes.
There were the Chanel-inspired beige and black court shoes; the beige full-circle skirt and matching top; the beige safari suit from my favourite shop, Hullabaloo, in Queen St, Auckland, that cost me a fortune when I was 16 and which I had to pay off over about two months (called “lay-by” in New Zealand).
And now, the long beige cardigan. Hmmm. To be honest, I usually only wear this garment when I am working from home. Here it is:
I sketched it using pastels and charcoal—none of them called “beige”, but rather sanguine, sepia, burnt sienna and raw umber, mixed with titanium.
I have had many beige cardigans, some of them rather swish-oh. A beige jacket is also a great choice when white is too stark and black too dark. And beige trousers are a trans-seasonal wardrobe staple, when white is too summery and black too wintery.
Googling this colour tells me there is no actual one hue that is beige. It is a generic name for a whole range of light browns. Beige is a neutral that looks good with just about any other colour, including black, brown, white, green, orange, purple and navy. I once had a bespoke beige suit that I wore to work with a turquoise Thai silk blouse.
Beige is my friend. So I wonder how it came to be considered boring, dowdy and “middle aged”?