Old Lady Shoes
Having just completed a move to a city known best for its annual Parade of Roses, I anticipate becoming another "little old lady from Pasadena" — right down to my tennis shoes. Actually, the original Beachboys' song, co-opted by the Dodge Motor Company, said nothing about the tennis shoes. That fashion detail was added when a granny spokesman, hired by the auto giant to promote its product, showed up at a rally in high-topped, hot- pink sneakers. She was probably like a lot of other mature ladies who once torturously toddled around in high heels — and can now barely make it through the day in flats! Well, if we're going to "walk all over God's heaven," we'll have to lace up and face the facts.
A while back, I bought a pair of chic, shiny blue wedgies to wear as Mother of the Bride. They matched my dress and felt gratifyingly comfortable as I paraded around in them in my carpeted home. But on the day of the nuptials, when their thin soles hit the punishing concrete, it was another matter altogether. By the end of the ceremony, I was being whisked back in a golf cart to my hotel room in order to change shoes, so that I could dance at my own daughter's wedding.
The family legacy of flawed female feet goes back several generations. My grandmother, who always seemed ancient to me, wore laced orthopedic-looking footwear with squat, sturdy heels. I regarded them as the quintessential "old lady shoes." By the time my mother's feet started to give her grief, she could rely on the relative comfort of flat, laced sport shoes, her favorite brand being Esprit. Though they were hardly considered high-style, they seemed perfectly sensible and innocuous for everyday use.
Even now, other brands, such as SAS and Clark, look basically the same. Rarely available in colors other than black, navy or tan, they are instantaneously pegged as a dubious fashion statement for the bunion brigade. The frightening fact is that they are barely different, in essence, from their forebears worn by my Grandmother Rose. To be fair, there are also "comfortable" sandals that have maybe a tad more pizzazz. But the bottom line — the sole of the matter — is that old lady shoes are designed to serve a purpose, not to wow the crowd. They are made to cushion, cradle and enclose troublesome feet, not to entice others to worship at that.
In my case, "bad" feet are compounded by feet so small they would have been praised and desired in ancient civilizations. In my younger days, I used to buy what were called "sample" shoes in size 4 1/2. Now the female foot has grown by several sizes, and most shoe stores don't stock anything smaller than a size 6. One can search the Web, as I did for the wedding shoes, but the risk is that the ordered item will not fit and must be inconveniently shipped back.
So when I find an emporium that stocks size 5s, I am beyond myself with expectation. During a recent trip, I came upon a Vans shoe store in an outlet mall. Okay, I know what you're thinking. Vans is a brand usually associated with, say, shoes for skate-boarders. Or for those who want white soles so thick they resembled sneakers on steroids. Still, I found two pairs — buy one, get the second pair at half price! — that looked and felt reasonably good. One came with turquoise laces, but I can change that easily enough!
If afterwards I experienced even a scintilla of buyer's remorse, it was quickly dispelled when I picked a current issue of The New Yorker and read an article about famous Italian shoe designer Christian Louboutin, who dreams up the latest in shoe styles for the international sartorial crowd. Yet there he was, pictured in full color, and wearing — can you believe this? — black sneakers with hefty white soles. Not the Vans brand, surely, but close enough to make him a man after my own feet.