Let me say up front that shoes are not my favorite things. Given a choice, I’d prefer to walk around barefoot, or, if temperature and weather conditions mandate, in sock feet. I certainly admire gorgeous shoes, but more as objets d’art, not something I could actually put on my body and function in.
However, I have had a few really meaningful pairs of shoes in my life. My white go-go boots back in 1967 come to mind immediately. Now if you remember the days of “Laugh In” on television, and Twiggy, the skinny blonde model from London’s Carnaby Street, you’ll know that the fashion rage in those days were mini skirts in “psychidelic” colors and knee high white boots. If you aren’t old enough to actually have seen this look in person, count your blessings and use your imagination.
In 1967 I was as far removed from looking like Twiggy as it was possible to be. A dark haired, brown eyed, slightly dumpy fourth grader, who had to shop for clothes in the chubby department and whose grandmother sometimes deftly inserted elastic expanders into the waistband of her pants. My feet matched the rest of me -wide and stubby. In those days, I got my sensible Stride Rites from a neighborhood shoe store. The children’s department was in the basement, and a kindly gray haired man would have me walk back and forth across a raised carpeted runway, closely examining my gait, measuring and squeezing my foot in whichever leather oxford my mother had chosen as most likely to be comfortable and serviceable.
I became obsessed with the idea of those white boots. I was sure that wearing white boots and a cranberry colored mini skirt would suddenly correct all the other flaws that were preventing me from looking cool. My naturally wavy hair would suddenly become stick straight, and my too short bangs would drag down to my (miraculously!) blue eyes. My short legs would lengthen, and my slightly protuberant tummy would flatten. So the search was on…like a reverse version of Cindarella, I must have tried on fifty pairs of white boots. If I managed to squeeze my foot into them, they wouldn’t zip up my calf. Some of them actually had elastic around the top of the calf, but then the foot portion was long and narrow.
My mother was skeptical about this whole thing, but she gamely participated, hauling me around to the various shopping centers, even taking me in the “cheap shoe stores” she normally wouldn’t deign to enter. It was actually in a discount department store called Korvette’s that we found them. This was a self serve shoe department, where all the shoes were out on the shelves, their respective boxes lined up neatly underneath. I saw the white boots, standing in stark relief among the other, more functional snow boots and rubbers. Lo and behold, some of the boxes actually had a large capital letter W after the size – WIDE! My heart started beating a little faster, anxiously scanning the rows of boxes for the number 1 followed by the life saving letter W. There they were- my boots! I made a grab for the box, kicked off my leather oxfords, and deftly rolled up my corduroy pants. Literally holding my breath, I started to insert my foot into the soft vinyl boot. My toes were in, then the high arch of my foot, then my heel – so far so good. I wrapped the top of the boot round by bare leg, stuffing in as much flesh as I could. Pinching the zipper firmly I began to pull it up. Over the ankle, up the calf, all the way to the knee without a catch! They were a perfect fit.
Normally a very shy child, I let out an uncharacteristic whoop and literally jumped for joy. My mother was smiling (probably more in relief that the search was over than in approval of my fashion choices), and getting the other boot out of the box for me to try on. My left foot slid right in, and it too zipped up effortlessly. These boots were made for me.
There was a popular song in those days called These Boots Are Made For Walkin’. In a kind of pre-feminist diatribe, the singer vows in her low gravely voice that “these boots are made for walkin,’ and that’s just what they’ll do…one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.” In my white boots, I could see myself as one of those tough women who could walk all over any man, or any thing that tried to get in her way. I could strut with the best of my tall, leggy, straight haired sisters, and strut I did. I wore those white boots to school, to my first girl-boy party, all around my neighborhood, and up and down the stairs of my house. Amazingly enough, my foot didn’t grow for about three years. The rest of me did though, and during those three years, my body stretched out and the baby fat disappeared. I would never be long legged and skinny, but, by age 12 was petite and nicely curvy. The white boots still fit, but they had been replaced by brown platforms, which went very well with my fringed suede jacket and bell bottom jeans.
A few years ago I was helping my mom do some cleaning in her basement when I ran across the now tattered box from Korvette’s labled “1W.” I lifted the lid, and there were the white boots, scuffed, creased, and run over at the heel. They looked incredibly small, but they had been given me a mighty powerful boost of confidence.
“I’m surprised you kept these,” I said to my mom, who wasn’t known for sentimentally hanging onto things.
“Oh, I just had to,” she said with a grin. “Those things meant so much to you, I couldn’t bear to throw them out.”
I brought them home with me and put them in the back of my closet with a pair of stappy black spike heeled sandals I occasionally (and painfully!) wear when I want to feel really decadent. Sometime shoes (or boots), even if they’re not actually “made for walkin'” help us walk taller, and carry us through life with a little more panache.