I Name that Shoe....
By Jane Hyphen
I’m not particularly fussed about footwear these days but as a child it’s difficult to describe how shoes made me feel.
It was as if the shoes on my feet represented my entire character and also presented to the world my current understanding of style and fashion, my family's financial situation and also my mother’s attitude in terms of how strict and oppressive she was. For example, would she allow me to have slip-on shoes or open toes or was I confined in my shoes to conservative styles and therefore from a boring, conservative family.
The girls who came from very religious families tended to wear the ugliest shoes ever and have the oldest looking parents. Whether they really were older, who knows but they certainly looked it. Entire families standing with their feet in ugly shoes, plain Mary Janes with thick, secure straps, confining feet, oppressing them just in case they broke out and caused the entire leg to dance inappropriately and cast doubt upon their faith.
The girls at school all judged each other by their shoes and anybody who had new shoes would attract immediate scrutiny. The beginning of the new school year was just a gathering of stooped bodies, heads down in neat shiny plaits, checking out the shoes. It wasn’t uncommon for two girls to have the same. ‘We’ve got the same shoes!’ or ‘Emily has the same shoes as you!’ or even ‘Sarah Harris from year five has those shoes!’ Even though you might be in another year, the girls kept a mental log of all the other girl’s shoes in the entire school.
Ugly shoes could ruin your entire life, stifle you in such a way that you hid away during play times and felt that you must pray for invisible feet and cease to express yourself. Bad shoes could make you a Leper.
Playtime was a good opportunity to carry out the shoe audit. The bell would ring and everyone in the playground had to freeze on the spot while each form was called to walk inside in single file. There were a handful of cool, trendy girls with nice hair and pretty faces and confidence, they always had the best shoes. It was an emotional thing, watching them walk in those patent slip-ons. Life goals and aspirations.
I remember once when I was about eight years old and wasn’t allowed slip-ons, my mum purchased, from Woolworths, a pair of cheap canvas blue shoes with an ugly silver buckle. My friend Helen had exactly the same pair and once when she was round my house I decided I was going to cut off the straps with my mum’s sewing scissors. Ten minutes later, after seeing the result, Helen did the same. Finally we both had slip-on shoes and we were ecstatic, walking up and down, staring at our own feet, our little hearts singing with joy. My mum was a bit shocked but laughed it off, Helen’s mum was quite furious and likely though I was a bad influence.
I had rather large feet as a child, six to six and a half by the time I reached secondary school and I once owned a pair of hideous burgundy loafers with gold stars on, made even uglier by the large size I needed to fit my feet. These were not school shoes, they were supposed to be for special occasions. I was mortified when one of my brother’s friends came over and saw my shoes in the hallway and remarked, ‘Blimey, what size shoes do you take?’ This comment was followed by prolonged laughter from my whole family and it was repeated to all relatives and neighbours. In fact, it’s still repeated now occasionally. I was around nine or ten years old at this time and there followed a period of extreme footwear paranoia.
During the eighties and nineties the average high street was festooned with shoe shops; Dolcis, Barrets, Clarks, Ravel, Saxon, Timpsons, I think Jones’s and Nine West came later. During my shoe paranoia period, it would often take three days and several visits to all these shops for me to find a pair of school shoes I was happy with. My mum indulged me in this, she seemed to understand how important it was to me.
Each pair of shoes in each shop had a name, a name to represent the design, often in a way which was fitting with the personality of the shoe. Some hideous shoes might have big clunky names like Beatrice or Maud and more edgy styles might be called Stella or Roxanne. It always intrigued me who was naming these shoes and it was a job that I would have liked if only I knew the job title. I could have told the careers advisory woman that I wanted to be ‘a namer of shoe styles.’ I wasn’t optimistic that this would work out for me, it seemed obvious that this job was limited to just a couple of people in the entire country.
The best pair of shoes I ever owned were from Ravel, I was in junior school and they were a little rebellious, not being black or navy. They were grey leather with a maroon trim and tiny maroon bows at the back and they had a removable ankle strap. I believe they were called, ‘Laura’. They had a small but not insignificant heel and I couldn’t believe I owned them, couldn’t stop staring at my feet; the way they made me feel as I walked in them was something like a religious experience. I remember one of the cool girls in the upper years had an identical pair but with opposite colouring, hers were maroon with grey trims and bows. She was called Candice and I was proud that we were shoe twins, almost. I wore those shoes until they fell to bits.
When I was twelve years old, quite a few of my friends were allowed to wear kitten heel stilettos. I wasn’t and I wanted a pair of these so badly, ideally in white because they would look so nice with leggings and lace gloves like Madonna. I never thought my dream would come true but one day my brother unexpectedly won fifty pounds on premium bonds and my mum said he must buy me something with the money. We went on a family trip to Brownhills Market in Walsall and I spotted a pair of red kitten heel stilettos for around a fiver and he bought them for me.
The following few days were a blur. I suddenly had another planet I could visit whenever I liked, each time I put those shoes upon my feet I was catapulted into orbit. Spinning through the universe, touching shoe heaven. I walked out in them, out onto the pavement, I heard the clicking of the metal heel tip on the concrete. I showed them to friends becoming quite breathless as I held out my foot, flexed my ankle and reminded myself that it was my foot that was wearing those kitten heel stilettos.
That was the peak of my shoe satisfaction and I knew it at the time. Since then I have become gradually less emotional about shoes and a big fan of trainers and comfort in general. However there is one aspect of shoe culture which continues to intrigue me and that is the human name given to each design.
It fascinates me that there is a person employed to name each individual pair of shoes, the name being printed on the box. Names like; Constance, Betty, Shona, Rain, Lena, Brandy, Fifi, Gisella, Maxine, occasionally more abstract names like Lotus or Jovial crop up but somehow they always fit the design. I wondered if the actual designer gets to choose the name but somehow I doubt it since they all seem to follow a pattern of being slightly quirky but not too zany. It intrigues me that such a job exists and how does one apply for it.
If anyone hears of such a job advertised, please let me know.