In 1917, The Evening Independent published an article on high heels that began: “Style decrees that women wear high-heel foot wear, which buckles up the toes, producing painful corns; then many women cut at these pests, which is a most dangerous preceding, because one is simply inviting infection or an awful death from lockjaw.”
In 1935, a woman named Edith Maxwell murdered her father with the heel of her shoe. She had apparently taken to wearing high heels when she left her mountain home and set out for the big city. There she learned to rouge her cheeks and powder her nose and flirt with men and, yes, wear high heels. Folks said, if her daddy’s murder was any proof, the city had changed her for the worse.
Many, many years later, when I was eleven years old, my mother took me shopping for school shoes. She liked a sensible brown pair of Buster Browns, but I wanted the blue-strapped, wooden high-heeled Candies.
“No,” my mom said.
“Because you’re too young. You cannot wear those to school.”
“But they’re the most beautiful shoes ever.”
This went on for several minutes.
Finally I said, with great exasperation and resolution, “If I can’t have these, I don’t want any shoes at all.”
This was a tactic I often used, even though it never ever worked in my favor. For some reason I never remembered this.
All I had to do was think back to a summer three years earlier when we were traveling to the beach with my aunt and my cousins– Lisa, who is five years older, and Shannon, who is one year older. Then, I’d had my heart set on a Tiger Beat Magazine, the same one Lisa and Shannon were allowed to buy. But Mom thought I was too young, and suggested I get a Betty & Veronica comic instead.
Now I loved Betty & Veronica, but everyone knew this was no substitute for Tiger Beat. I told my mother that if I couldn’t have it, I didn’t want anything at all. “Fine,” she said, and I spent the rest of the car ride watching Lisa and Shannon read their magazines, Shannon making a grand show of it and taking extra care to gloat at me over the pages.
Standing in the shoe store, I repeated myself. “If I can’t have these, I don’t want any new shoes.”
“Fine,” my mother said, and we drove home empty-handed.
As we pulled into the driveway, I said to her, “When I get older, I am going to wear high heels every day of my life,” as if this, somehow, would make her sorry.
She said, “Go for it.” My mother rarely wore heels. At forty, she was pretty and luminous, and had long, slim legs like Audrey Hepburn. She could have worn all the heels in the world, but for some reason she didn’t. For me, it was a great, frustrating mystery.
Oh, I eventually got the Candies– when I was twelve, I was allowed to wear them for dress-up at home. These were shoes so beautiful that my younger cousin Ashley made me promise to will them to her when I died.
She can have them. Because, while I still wear heels when I go out on the town (which is very rare these days, thanks to That Big Book Deadline), I am most comfortable in my pink and black flip-flops.