For girls of a certain age, our lifelong love affair with shoes displays many of the characteristics of our real life love affairs – pleasure, delight, pain, uncertainty, anxiety, regret.
From our early years, we were alerted to the nuances of shoe-wear and the subtleties of class and coolness signified by our choices.
Shoe shorthand is now accessible to everyone, partly courtesy of shows such as Sex and The City, so we all knowingly refer to Manolos and Louboutins and Jimmy Choos.
The Rite stuff
But way, way back in the day, even before commercial TV entered our sitting rooms, we were aware of the differences between the kids who wore any old shoes and the kids who, like the Start-Rite Twins, had shoes that were measured to fit properly and cost a bit more than the norm.
The twins appeared on an advertising poster for Start-Rite shoes which was displayed on the London Underground between 1945 and 1965, and unwittingly sowed the seeds of class warfare among those who envied and resented their (sorry, twins) apparent smugness as their shoes started them rite on the privileged path to success in life.
Shoes were a troublesome part of school uniform because unlike other components, they couldn’t be customised. Our regulation shoes were made by Clarks. They were sturdy, red-brown with a fringed tassel on the instep, and loathed by anyone who longed for something, anything, with a bit of a pointed toe, not to mention the whisper of a heel.
Sophistication was measured by the height of a heel. One and a half inches was tame, barely worth the bother. Three inches were the epitome of grown-upness.
But by the time we were able to choose or buy our own shoes, the high-heeled stilettos we lusted after had become a marker of the girls we didn’t want to be. That whole look — stilettos, full skirt, bouffant hair — belonged to a different era and signalled a different sensibility.
These boots were made for walking
Enter the boot, which was to become the keeper of all keepers.
You could go the patent pointed thigh-high route if you really wanted to channel the fetishistic dominatrix look, captured by the phrase Kinky Boots and ‘celebrated’ in a 1964 song recorded by Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman, stars of ITV’s The Avengers.
The song was in, fact, a satirical, pretty misogynist look at the popularity of boots, and had some scathing things to say about women who ran ‘like a flock of sheep’ to buy them — Fashion magazines say wear ’em And you rush to obey like the women in a harem.
Women of all ages and all types wanted to wear these boots, from schoolgirls to maiden aunts to Mayfair debutantes, from street girls to grumpy little Beat Girls.
Beat Girls wore boots with attitude. They wore boots that looked good and that you could walk in. They wore boots like Suze Rotolo on the front of the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album. They wore boots with a bit of a boys’ cut, Desert boots like the mods wore (made by Clarks! Fancy that!) and the lovely classic Chelsea boots, cool, comfortable, stylish. My first pair were called ‘Chelsea bootees’. Sigh.
And we learnt to wear them with everything. A big shout-out to our punk sisters who in a later decade spread the popularity of tough industrial-style footwear worn with everything, trousers, skirts, party frocks…
Deep inside, though, we sometimes hanker after gorgeous, unwearable, taxi shoes, for vertiginous heels in which we can’t walk or stand for long but which make us feel sexy and powerful (eh?). And many of us have succumbed to their lure with the aid of gels and pads and patches, lots of protective plasters and a pair of flatties in our bag.
Those Start-Rite kids, they never got corns or bunions.
My book, Living Doll, is a coming of age novel set as the Sixties started to swing. It’s available from Amazon worldwide.
You might also like: