Sunday 18 February 2018

If the shoe doesn't fit…

… buy and buy again

'Ours is a struggle for the ages: Obstinate women versus unyielding shoes'
'Ours is a struggle for the ages: Obstinate women versus unyielding shoes'

Leslie Ann Horgan

I'm sitting face to face with my nemesis. This torturer, in studded black leather, is a source of great pain and anguish in my life. Time after time I've been left bruised, blistered and burned after our encounters. And yet, I keep going back for more, because I have no other options… And because I spent €235 on this pair of boots and I'm determined to get my wear out of them.

Ours is a struggle for the ages: obstinate woman versus unyielding shoes. Soft skin versus tough leather. Burning soles of feet versus burning hole in bank account…

For the purposes of this article, this morning I conducted a stocktake on my shoes. This is a process that I have heretofore avoided, to sidestep both the onslaught of materialistic guilt and the anger of my father, who has helped me lug the boxes through numerous house moves over the last decade.

My current inventory is as follows: heels x 22 pairs; wedges x 3 pairs; flat sandals x 2 pairs; ankle boots x 7 pairs (flat and heeled, all inexplicably black); knee-high boots x 2 pairs (1 flat, 1 heeled, both - you guessed it - black); trainers x 5 pairs; flip-flops x 2 pairs; brogues x 1 pair; hiking boots x 1 pair; snow boots x 1 pair; wellingtons x 1 pair. That's a grand total of 47 pairs of shoes.

Of those, 12 pairs have the price that I paid for them printed on the side of the box, coming to a total of €2,260. It's safe to say that you could double, if not triple, that sum to get the gross - in all senses of the word - amount that I have spent on shoes. And yet, I don't own a single pair that are comfortable.

It has to be admitted that there was an element of Celtic Tiger abandon to some of my shoe buying. Before the recession I lived a work-hard, shop-hard life and, like Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw, liked to keep my money where I could see it - stacked in shoeboxes.

So, no, I didn't really expect the towering courts in wine crushed velvet with jewelled Marie Antoinette-style bow to be worn more than a handful of times, or for the beautiful black suede sandals with 7in heels to take me anywhere more than from barstool to taxi. (In fact, they never took me anywhere at all, that extra inch proving ankle-breakingly dangerous even to a walking-in-heels expert such as myself.) But the rest of my shoes - even those as dull and supposedly functional as Chelsea boots, air-cushioned trainers and inoffensive flip-flops - are every bit as uncomfortable.

My feet are a hellish combination of long and narrow, which means that they slip around inside most shoes, cutting and rubbing as they do. Thick socks, shoe inserts and gel insoles do nothing to stop the pain. Neither does buying expensive, well-made shoes. I won't go full Embarrassing Bodies with the details, but suffice to say that it's a rare day I don't have at least one plaster somewhere below my ankles, and that my feet are scarred and misshapen as a result.

With winter looming, I've spent a good deal of the past two months on that annual hunter-gatherer mission of finding a new coat and boots. Every high street and department store is teeming with ankle boots, bikers, over-the-knees and slouch styles, so I convinced myself (yet again) that this would be the year that I'd find the perfect pair of walk-everywhere boots. And, for the briefest of moments, I thought that I had…

After trying on countess styles - a fraction of the number I was willing to try on if only more stores stocked size-8s, but that's a rant for another day - I finally settled on a shoe, only to discover that the store couldn't find its match. There's a left ankle boot with buckle detailing on the loose in Dublin somewhere.

Dejected and ready to throw in the towel, I went into one last shop - and there they were. Flat boots in black leather with elasticated side panelling and on-trend studding. As my foot slipped into their perfect fit and softness, I experienced all of the happiness of Cinderella finding her Prince Charming (incidentally, royal couturier Stewart Parvin has revealed that Queen Elizabeth has someone to break in her shoes for her. I'd swap lives with Kate Middleton in a millisecond if that's the case, even if it condemned me to a life of low-heeled nude courts. And if anyone out there cares to walk a mile in my shoes, all offers will be gratefully received.)

But my joy was shortlived. Once they were home, the boots stopped being glove-like and began to hurt. And not just in the usual spots where my feet have built up some semblance of defence - oh no, these black devils have chosen whole new areas of virgin skin to literally leave their mark on. Stand for any amount of time and my soles will burn; walk anywhere and they'll blister.

I've tried all the old housewives' tricks of rubbing them with a spoon, heating them with a hairdryer and stuffing them with damp newspaper, but to no avail. I've even tried just striding on through the pain, resulting in a lap of the Botanic Gardens that felt akin to walking on hot coals.

But I won't surrender. Too many times before, I've given in and cast aside painful footwear, but not on this occasion. I'm determined to break in these boots - even if I end up in Boot Hill as a result. Surely the 47th time must be the charm?

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