A Mile in your Shoes





By Jill Lowe



I love walking in shoes.
Shoes complete a look.
But so importantly, shoes make me walk a certain way. The gait with some
confidence, an air of authority, can give me a demeanor of “I have miles to go,
things to do, and who knows how much time do I have?”

I have a collection of many types of shoes, of course, none as far back as Chopines – those platform shoes from the 16th century in Italy, or even shoes worn by Manchu women in China in c.1800, such as depicted at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada.

Dreaded words (previously associated with members of a different generation) “wide toe box, excessive pronation, orthotics, gel this and that”, have entered the vernacular. WHAT????

I have surrounded myself with those who are like-minded with Christian Louboutin “I would hate for someone to look at my shoes and say, ‘Oh my God! They looks so comfortable!”

So what to do?

How does one move from a perspective of an “Imelda Marcos fund” to a collection of shoes one will actually wear?

I must have had a goodish shoe collection (no, not like Sex in the City), but a collection of varied samples, because a friend had taken a photo of my shoe storage some years ago (I keep the boxes and put photos on the front) and then had fashioned a Christmas card of the shoes with the caption “Shoes in days of yore”

Ooops! I still have many of those shoes even if from yesteryear, though a good number have gone to charities or at least to the “shoe departure lounge”: it is reserved for shoes not discarded until there is CERTAINTY that they must go. (this saves returning in weeks to the Salvation Army store to buy them back!)

Artists have used shoes, often as just one example of used everyday objects as expressions in installations.

As the website of the Virtual Shoe Museum (link in notes) says of Willie Cole “the repetitive use of single objects in multiples, Cole’s assembled sculptures acquire a transcending, almost spiritual vibration, and a renewed metaphorical meaning that often become a critique of our consumer culture.”

Willie Cole’s absolutely beautiful installation at the Hamilton, New Jersey’s Grounds for Sculpture of the almost 7ft 2005-6 Pretty In Pink installation, uses many shoes in circles to express the concept of lotus blossoms which die and flower again.

Photo: Kind permission of the artist Willie Cole

Too, Chiharu Shiota explores human existence throughout various dimensions. Her large-scale thread installations include a variety of common objects like keys, windows, shoes, with a web of wires and threads. Born in Osaka, Japan (1972), she lives and works in Berlin.

Did I say I love shoes? Though I never wore stilettos, I adore watching the bright young things at a party or wedding in stilettos of all manners, glittery, strappy, sling backs, sleek pumps in gorgeous colors, bows, different shaped heels.

Marilyn Monroe’s shoes in the 26ft Seward Johnson sculpture installed in Pioneer Court in Chicago 2011

Fashions, customs, and attitudes change. At one time it was such that hose was required with shoes. Not anymore – except for the Queen. Conversely, it was never OK to wear a hose with peep toe shoes.

I believe it was around 9/11 that women began wearing running shoes to walk to work, many carrying “dress shoes” at work. Gradually, many running shoes have become dress shoes, with an explosion of colors, fabrics, in flat shoes for women and INDEED some with those wide toe boxes.

Travel has dictated fewer pairs of shoes. Carry-on makes one choose very carefully. Here there is no room for “ they probably won’t hurt in Italy”. No, one must travel with known comfort.

If we think it is hard enough to pack and limit shoes, imagine when one has to travel with the whole leg. I speak about these 2 women because they are amputees who regularly wear different shoes. (It is often hard enough to walk as an amputee, let alone change shoes)

Aimee Mullins-the model, athlete, and public speaker, a bilateral amputee is a champion of mine. With 12 pairs of legs, she has different heel heights, legs with blades for running. Also, she has legs of different lengths, famously triggering other models to exclaim she was being unfair “to be able to change her height!!! Her Ted Talk is so impactful. (link in notes)

Alexander McQueen exhibited in 2011 at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. For the exhibit, McQueen had fashioned for Aimee a pair of carved legs of wood. Many thought she was wearing boots. Poor Aimee, the outfit where she wore the carved legs in the exhibit had a form-fitting leather vest which had such a high neck, it enforced her to look straight ahead. This added challenge of not being able to look at the floor to keep balance caused her some apprehension.

Photos from the book Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty

A fellow resident at my boarding house in college – a single amputee, Lila had available 2 prosthetic legs- 1 for heels and 1 for flats- (technology not allowing for heel height adjustment yet although she did have a threaded gear at the prosthetic heel to allow minor changes for different shoe heel height)

This meant though that my friend Lila had to leave for vacation in a taxi to the airport with her extra legs, and, in her case including a swimming leg (because standard artificial legs cannot be exposed to water unless specially designed for use in water and on the sand.)

Shoes, Shoes, Shoes: the subject of museums, greeting cards, and decorative items.

The greeting card from Cath Tate cards refers to the quest to have bags to match shoes. So prevalent in the late 20th century, one did not leave the shoe store without a companion bag. That notion has gone by the wayside with only an attempt to be coordinated and certainly not “matchy matchy.” Eclectic is the mantra today. Too, many today ditch the bag altogether, carrying instead a credit card and ID in the back of the phone!

Andy Warhol notecards
Shirley Dutchover
Kawabuchi Notecards

THE IDIOM- Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes, long credited as a Native American aphorism, replacing the word shoes with moccasins, the saying almost certainly is derived from a Mary T. Lathrop poem published in 1895. Many variations exist of this phrase such as walk a mile in his, her or my shoes, including the humorous from Steve Martin:-

Used by the organization Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®:- Men ending Men’s Sexualized Violence: since 2001, men, women, and their families have joined The International Men’s March to stop the violence. (link in notes)

For a real treat, visit virtually or in person, in Canada, the treasures of North America’s charming and surprising shoe museum. The BATA Shoe Museum regularly displays over a thousand shoes from a collection of over 14,000 objects, in architect Raymond Moriyama’s iconic award-winning building. 4,500 years of history are reflected in the permanent exhibit ALL ABOUT SHOES.

With the dreaded words signifying “sensible” many might think this could be the end of the style. “Not So”! I say.

The emergence of the kitten heel, (is that what we used to call the illusion heel?) and flats with ever such a slight raise, the wedge heel, even if only slight elevation, plus the explosion of either oxfords or sleek industrial boots have allowed sensible and comfortable to be stylish. Tripping and falling can be prevented.

One’s gait is so revelatory as to the comfort of shoes and confidence in ambulation. Thus, at all costs I find, it is best to wear whatever shoe will allow for stability and balance without having to adopt those mincing steps, with a wide base, when wearing unsuitable shoes.

Maybe there comes the time when we must follow what is said to be a basic requirement of an opera singer which is to wear comfortable shoes, or as the screenwriter of Thelma and Louise, Callie Khouri said “Always, in all circumstances, wear comfortable shoes. You never know when you may have to run for your life.”


Notes and further reading.

Photo of Jill : Joe Mazza Bravelux inc.
Photos not attributed- copyright © 2022 Jill Lowe. All rights reserved
Bata Shoe Museum https://batashoemuseum.ca
Click here for Aimee Mullins Ted talk : February 2009

Chiharu Shiota
https://www.chiharu-shiota.com/over-the-continents THE CONTINENTS, 2014 old shoes, red wool

Virtual shoe Museum https://virtualshoemuseum.com/willie-cole/

Willie Cole https://www.williecole.com

Virtual shoe Museum https://virtualshoemuseum.com/willie-cole/

https://www.groundsforsculpture.org in Hamilton New Jersey


Books: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty 2011