Some see a wildly expensive feathered sandal and think, ‘Why?’ I see a pink Prada clog on sale and think, ‘Why not?’
Suddenly it’s shoe paradise out there. You’re walking down Madison Avenue on a torrid day and you see scantily clad ladies, cute pooches, new real estate developments. I see shoes. Shoes I’m thinking of buying, shoes I’ve already bought, shoes I can’t afford, shoes I suddenly believe I can afford after trying them on, shoes I don’t need, shoes I will never understand. They sit in the shop windows and they mock me.
Who knew that pumps could come in two pieces, like a bathing suit? The mules, the slides, the slingbacks, the slip-ons, the wedges, the Mary Janes, the Sabrina heels, the thongs, the jellies, the ballet slippers conjuring up my misspent youth. On and on they march, each more charming and flattering than the last, dancing tirelessly through my daydreams, till, like the doomed heroine in my new favorite movie, The Red Shoes , I find myself drawn to the cash register, charge plate in hand. If I call my credit card a “charge plate,” it makes me feel more like some luxuriously kept woman of yesteryear, with mincing step and toy poodle, perhaps, instead of what I am: a no-account spendthrift with a grim, bargain-seeking stride and a hairball-hucking cat.
I never thought I would be a “shoe person.” I was always a “bag person.” Shoe people, I believed, were frivolous souls with wildly fluctuating waistlines whose justification for their little habit was, Well, at least my foot size doesn’t change . Bag people were cool, calm and contemplative; shoe people were irrational and jittery. Bag people were aloof and appraising; shoe people traveled in packs, squealing a lot and calling things “cute.” Men who worked in shoestores freaked me out.
Now those same men are my buddies. They call other branches to check on size availability for me. We have a deal: I’ll parade in front of them, and they’ll cluck appreciatively. We talk about the shoes by name: Alouetta. Sharon. The Mouse.
Suspicion dawned that I had really become a shoe person when I received my first pedicure, a gift, a few weeks ago at the Bliss Spa. I gazed guiltily down while a nice young Russian woman submerged my feet in a large vat of whole milk, the kind of thing for which her countrypeople used to wait on line for days so that they could feed their families. The scent of almonds wafted up at me. Then I stifled giggles in my fist-other, more seasoned shoe people looking on indulgently-as I was sanded, pounded, polished, slipped into a pair of cheap flip-flops to dry, and after a decent interval sent out again into the world, which suddenly seemed awash in cute sandals. I promptly purchased some.
I tried to set limits; cut corners. I decided that it was O.K. to have “two” in each category of shoe-a basic, sensible black one, and a colored “alternate”-and then decided that it was O.K. to make an exception for Mary Janes. Mary Janes could be my “signature” shoe, the way that some people have signature scents, and I could have as many of them as I pleased.
Manolo Blahnik held one of its famous sales, and I thriftily used my unlimited Metrocard to speed me there and back. (A few years ago, I thought Manolo Blahnik was a type of exotic bird-and who knows, perhaps in a way he is.)
I reasoned that, as a runner, it was healthy to wear a different pair each day, with varying levels of heel. Better for the foot.
And I am tall, as women go, so I decided I needed a full complement of flats so as not to intimidate people. Then I thought, the hell with that, I’ll stalk around in heels! Men can look up at me and love it!
People began to make comments. Where did those come from, they’d say. I could only shrug and smile a sickly smile.
But it only became really clear that I had a problem that sorry day I slunk shamefacedly into Lechter’s, the home supply store, and bought one of those plastic “shoe files” that you hang in your closet to keep yourself organized. I always thought that only Marla Maples owned “shoe files.”
O.K., I’ll admit it. It was my second “shoe file.”
Shoe paradise, it turns out, is hell on the wallet, not to mention the psyche. You feel foolish. Frivolous. So I turned to some shoe people veterans, and culled a set of rationalizations they’ve developed for spending more money than we have on these things. That made me feel a whole lot better.
If you buy something and then return it, we agreed, the credit is free money-yours to spend! On shoes, or whatever! If you go on vacation and come home with extra travelers checks, it’s play money- Monopoly money-all for you. Why not buy a pair of shoes ? Conversely, if you never go on vacation because you’re such a dedicated, paranoid New Yorker that you’re too afraid to fly, stop working (they’ll miss you!), or give up your treasured routines (out-of-town editions of The Times don’t carry the wedding announcements!), that’s a huge chunk of money saved right there. Shoe money, I now call it.
If you lose something, and then find it again, you are entitled to spend what it would have cost you to replace the original object, since you had already written it off, plus an extra treat, a pair of shoes perhaps, to celebrate the sweet euphoria of finding it.
Moreover, the money you don’t spend on therapy is free to spend on the goods of your choosing, say, shoes. Many people believe that shopping is akin to therapy, and unlike therapy, at least you come home with something concrete to show for it, like a nice shoe or two.
However much money you are spending on shoes, it is surely not as much as Shoshanna Lonstein. Similarly, however many pairs of shoes you own, it will never be as many as there are in In Style . Your spending on shoes is part of what is fueling the good economy. Go, bull market, go! And speaking of the bull market, you could be spending a lot more money on rent than you are-a lot more. That money you are not spending on rent is, again, now available for the goods
of your choosing. Like shoes. Or for the more established among us, you could have paid the asking price for your co-op, or had some horrible contracting experience. You didn’t? One word: shoes.
What about pregnancy? Everybody’s getting pregnant, but you’re not. Babies cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, with no guarantee that they won’t turn out to be maniacs that push people off subway platforms. Shoes are only public menaces insofar as they cause blisters (those pink clogs also produced splinters). Also, pregnant people probably shouldn’t wear high heels, which means that someone has to.
You don’t have a car, do you? The garage alone could pay the rent on a nice one-bedroom in most normal cities. If you eschew the garage, there are parking tickets to pay, there’s your lost time for getting up early to move the thing on alternate-side-of-the-street morning … nah. Shoes are better.
They’re far better, as well, than expensive grooming processes. Facials? That country-air glow lasts for about half an hour. Massages? Are you kidding-let a stranger touch me? Yoga? Bah.
Even a pedicure only lasts so long.