By Harlan Yaffe,
Fashion Editor for Todo Ahora
January 14, 2003

Last week (in Well Heeled) we thrashed out the low down on high heels, coming to the conclusion that they function more successfully as an aphrodisiac than as footwear.  We men simply love to look at women wearing them. Women, well they must love the way we look at them while wearing heels because they continue to do so despite of how uncomfortable they may be. Style, not comfort, has consistently been the primary consideration in selecting footwear since the first shoe, the moccasin, adorned the feet of the Neanderthal men and women in 12,000 BC. Because fashion is in a perpetual state of evolution, whatever trend is now popular will not be for long. This is as true with your shoes as it is for the rest of your wardrobe.

William A. Rossi, a former podiatrist who currently serves as a consultant to the footwear industry, relates in his book, The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe, the story of a woman telling her psychiatrist about a disturbing nightmare she dreamed she was walking down the street naked, except for her shoes. "And you felt deeply embarrassed?" probed her psychiatrist. "Terribly so," she replied, "They were last year's shoes."

Historically, all shoes were designed for men. Women's styles only became the trendsetters in modern times. Each year over thirty thousand new styles reach American footwear emporiums: women's styles account for over seventy-five percent of them. The correlation that over seventy-five percent of all podiatry patients are female should come as a shock to no one, especially to the fairer sex who has been crunching their digits into shoes too small and heels too high since the days of Catherine De Medici. The notion of the small and dainty foot being a badge of extreme femininity goes back even further than that, to 923 AD. The ancient Chinese bound the feet of women to keep them as tiny "as a lotus" which translated to 3.9 inches. This practice was not outlawed until 1949, yet the stigma persists even today: most women would gladly reveal their true age or weight rather than divulge her shoe size. In fact, there are only two brief periods in modern history where function won the tug-of war with style.

The "sensible" orthopedic-looking oxford shoes of the twenties and thirties were greatly popularized by Eleanor Roosevelt, who firmly believed that foot comfort was more important than style.  While historians avow Eleanor's vast humanitarian contributions were arguably the best hands in her husband's New Deal, this is one first lady the chroniclers of fashion can not turn the page on fast enough.


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