The shoes I’m currently wearing are Nike Trainers, but that’s because I’ve just taken my mischievous Spaniel out for her run. Shoes aren’t simply to provide a protective layer between your foot and the outside world; they are a style choice, confer status and character and in the case of sport shoes, denote an active owner. Shoes are both an indication of personality and a metaphor - and we love them.
A young, eager graduate buys a new pair of brogues for a job interview, that same graduate climbs the career ladder by getting their 'foot in the door.' Cinderella wouldn’t have had the same climax had it been a shoeless story that simply revolved around two ugly step-sisters. The fact that Cinderella is adorned by her fairy godmother in a glittering ball gown and dainty crystal-glass slippers frees her to accept the invitation to the Royal ball, the owner of such a delicate slipper then becomes the measure of the Prince’s bride.
When someone says ‘put yourself in my shoes’ they want you to see something from their perspective. When we are told ‘not to step on someone’s shoes’ we are being politely informed not to encroach on someone else’s territory and when someone remarks, ‘you’ve got pretty big shoes to fill’ they are alluding to a successful predecessor. The diverse metaphoric use of shoes has an intrinsic link to personality, character and aspiration.
When I graduated from University, my friends were buying new dresses for the ceremony; instinctively, I decided to buy a new pair of shoes. I went to Dune and bought pointed, black leather stilettos with a thin steel-capped heel and a dainty ankle strap. I wanted something expensive, classic and timeless. As it happened, under our engulfing ropes, the shoes were the only statement of our attire.
Everytime I look at them, I reminisce about that day. When I place my feet into my stilettos, the soft leather vamp yields around them. My shoes are both a beautiful pair I wear for special occasions as well as synonymous with that time in my life.
Shoes have never ducked their potential for social statement in popular culture. Nancy Sinatra sung of audacious, unforgiving boots primed and ready to walk all over an unfaithful partner, Carl Perkins used the luxury item of the South and a stylish footware choice for a night-out, Blue Suede Shoes, to write what is often cited as the first song with pure Rock ‘n’ Roll attitude. In more recent times, Palo Nutini sings of the confidence gained with a pair of New Shoes. Of course, hip-hop and rap regularly reference shoes in their lyrics, with trainers representative of a culture of cool.
Throughout literature and film, shoes have been paired for their various qualities, including; the ability to transform, seduce and convey attitude. In arguably the most iconic shoes in film history, Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz , transport the little girl when she clicks her heels together and utters those five magic words. Playing the ultimate female predator in Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone wore a pair of sexy sling-back shoes in a blush colour in the film's most notorious scene. For those with acute attention to detail, in Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol.1, the camera captures the bottom of Uma Thurman’s Onitsuka Tiger Tai Chi’s as she walks across the House of Blue Leaves before her epic battle against O-Ren Ishii and her 'Crazy 88' army. There is a split-second pause, just long enough to make out the fittingly aggressive 'FUCK U' message inscribed across the soles of Thurman's shoes.
For many, shoes are simply a functional item or part of a professional uniform. However, for those bold soles, shoes can be and are an expression of status, rebellion, personality and a catalyst towards aspirations.
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is hosting the ‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain’ exhibition which runs until 31 January 2016. The exhibition looks as the extremes of footware from around the globe. It showcases examples from famous shoe wearers and collections as well as stunning historic shoes. Themes of status, seduction, obsession and the transformation make for a diverse exhibition for shoe fanatics.