Wednesday 22 February 2017

To heel and back: The story of one girl and her many, many shoes

Sophie Donaldson

Published 14/06/2016 | 13:54

Sophie Donaldson
Sophie Donaldson

I still vividly remember my first pair of heels.

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A perfectly sensible pair of silver leather sandals, they had thick straps that ran across the ankle and toe and a squat square heel. Truly a product of their time (circa 1998), funnily enough they are rather fashionable right now. When I slid into them back then though, I felt transformed. Despite my frame being elevated just a single inch it was enough to make me feel utterly beguiling, an eight-year old femme fatale.

In the years following the height of my heels grew taller just as my taste in shoes grew more questionable. There were those yellow and royal blue quilted pleather loafers, purchased at age 16. Then there were the four-inch white flatforms like stiff marshmallows tacked onto my soles that were so unstable I fell to the ground, twice, whilst standing perfectly still. Another pair of platforms made of solid wood, the rigid natural fibre unwavering against a moving foot and forcing what I hoped to be a graceful gait into a painful toddle.

As well as the regrettable choices there have been those shoes that I have loved so very much and kicked myself for leaving. A pair of chocolate brown over-the-knee boots in a nappa leather so soft they may as well have been spun from silk; a pair of midnight blue velvet booties with a patent heel and satin laces. Moving from the southern hemisphere forced me to part with shoes that I danced, explored and walked countless miles in, but there have been some choice pairs that made it cross-continent. These are shoes that I could not leave no matter how strict the baggage allowance; these are the shoes closest to my heart that I wear oh-so-fondly on my feet.

The First Love

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At 18, my shoe collection was just about to burgeon. I had started working part-time in a shoe shop and the endless hours spent dusting around Italian made loafers and leather sandals crafted in Spain was the beginning of something terrible. The money earned on my weekend shifts was mostly squirreled away into a savings account dedicated to my escape to the big smoke, but it was occasionally pilfered for a pair I couldn’t resist. For a mid-term break to said big smoke to stay with my older, glamorous cousin I had been channelling some funds into a separate account destined for the boutiques and hallowed department stores of Sydney.

After days spent trawling the open air markets and boutiques of Paddington, I had not yet spent a cent. I had seen hordes of covetable items but having saved for months I wanted to part with my money over something that made me swoon.

On my last day before heading home I was fruitlessly circling the designer boutiques in the city centre. Despite my small sum of savings, there was not an iota of a chance I would being taking something home from one of those polished emporiums, but still, I couldn’t resist a look.

High fashion can be an intimidating prospect and it was with some trepidation that I made my way onto the gleaming shop floor. Immediately, my eye was caught and hooked on a pair of shoes so fantastic they hardly resembled footwear, rather slashes of electric blue leather in various exotic skins, perched on their spiky heels like birds of paradise ready to swoop off the display. Shoes like this were no ordinary find and so I moved that little bit closer to find, ah, yes, of course they were a size 39. Perhaps by chance, they were from a little known designer hoping to shell their wares at an agreeable price. Perhaps it was sheer coincidence that the name on the box said Chloe. Chloe. Maybe not that Chloe?

As I began to admit defeat, because there was no plausible way in which I, a small girl from Canberra who loved fashion but only ever from afar would ever be the owner of Chloe shoes, a shop assistant sidled up to me. Embarrassed, not knowing why I was even in there, I tried to manoeuvre my way out fumbling half formed “No, just looking, I’m fine” excuses. Shrewd but kind, she had clearly seen the unadulterated lust on my face.

“Gorgeous, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they are.”

“They were a runway style last season, did you know?”

“Um, no, I didn’t. Thanks”

“You know we’re moving, do you?”

“Oh, no, I didn’t.” Despite willing her with my eyes to stop asking me questions I could not answer and end this pain, she ploughed on.

“And we have to get rid of everything, by tomorrow. They were half price, but they’re now 80% off.”

“…Oh?”

“Oh, yes. Judging by your shoes I’d say they’re about your size. Would you like to try them on?”

Finally, she was asking a question I knew the answer to. Yes, I did try them on, and although I had to leave the shop once more simply to fathom that I was about to buy shoes from Chloe (Chloe!) and not cripple myself with debt, that owning the things I dreamt about was a possibility and that yes, the big smoke was everything I hoped it to be and more.

The Slow Burner

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If Prada and Oxfam have anything in common it’s these shoes. Purchased from the latter, not the former, I’ve patiently waited for the late-nineties flared heel and stumpy square toe to make their way back in fashion. AW15 was my moment, when Miuccia sent her models down the runway with sweet Mary-Janes strapped to their feet, the delicate ankle straps contrasting brilliantly with the chunky a-line heels.

Once again Prada had triumphantly dictated the new shoe ‘it’ shoe and thankfully, it was just the type I had been championing. After her shoes were on the feet of every street-styler I would wear my own Oxfam-tastic version, and was even once asked if they were indeed from the high fashion house. Sadly, Prada and I have not yet been so personally acquainted but just like me and my flared heels, I’m sure our time will come.

An Animal Obsession

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As the above image attests it’s a sad moment when one obsession manifests upon another. It’s hard to recall which came first, the compulsion for shoes or penchant for animal print but not even I was aware of the extent of both problems until I saw these three entirely different types of footwear lined up together in my wardrobe. They were like three siblings who share absolutely no familial features, save for a head of unmistakably speckled hair.

A family of leopard shoes is odd; what I find more bizarre is that one of them is a pair of trainers. After a childhood forced onto the netball court I associate sportswear with semi-contact bullishness, where your nails are clipped on the court should they slyly attempt to swipe an opponent’s eye.

Years have passed since I was a part of this passive aggressive weekend ritual, but after defiantly hobbling along my 45-minute route into work wearing a pair of block heeled-sling backs, I knew it was time to succumb. If I was going to have to buy a pair of trainers, by god, would they be snazzy. And so leopard print, the refuge of drag queens and “wacky” women everywhere, once again came to my rescue.

The Drunken Mistake

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We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Weeks, then months, of ogling each other online. Late nights hovering over their picture, imagining the two of you together. Fantasies of what you would wear on your first night out together. And then, the drunken mistake. It was very late at night and wine had been drunk. I came home, alone, and opened my laptop. They had been on my mind and in my heart for so long, my head was light and in that moment the solution seemed so very simple; we needed to be together. Before I could comprehend the ramifications of my actions, I hit send and received an immediate response:

“Order successful: Alexander Wang ‘Tasha’ boots dispatched.”

My hangover was compounded the following morning when I checked my bank balance to see that a single click of the keyboard had cost me upward of $300. As with all online shopping mishaps the option to refund was right in front of me. I considered the situation and realised I had just enough money left for rent and food for the month and I hung up my apprehensions until the boots had arrived.

Once I had unwrapped them from their pristine white box, I knew that nothing could compare to the invincibility of wearing these boots. Conceding that it would be beans on toast for the next two weeks, I reasoned that at least a lesson has been learnt; when you really, really want something you might just need a bit of a push, and several large glasses of Chardonnay.

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