Marilyn sang about diamonds, but I firmly believe shoes are a girl's best friend. Even on a frumpy, bloated, bad-hair-day, I can still rock excellent shoes that make me feel sexy, pretty, and even powerful.
When I saw Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us, I knew I had to read that book. Rachelle Bergstein's book begins at the start of the 20th century with an Italian boy named Salvatore Ferragamo. It proceeds to the present day (with occasional flashbacks to European courts and Chinese women with bound feet), exploring what the shoes of each era said about women.
The chapter on the original power pump and the femme fatale highlighted how many films about these bad girls begin with a shot that pans from their naughty shoes up to their face. Can there be any doubt of Barbara Stanwyck's intentions when she trods down those stairs in pom-pom trimmed heels in Double Indemnity? Lana Turner may be wearing virginal white, but those peep-toed pumps scream "sex." No wonder men make bad choices around her. No wonder the postman keeps ringing...
Another chapter covers boots, specifically those of Nancy Sinatra, the ones made for walking. The backstory behind the song almost makes you forget how grating it can be.
The book is not just for high fashion; it includes the story behind athletic shoes. Another chapter explores Vans, Chuck Taylors, and Doc Martens, the shoes of the grunge cool kids.
No book about shoes would be complete without referencing Sex and the City. In the show, shoes became a symbol of a woman's power: "I don't need a man to buy these for me, thank you very much. I make my own money and my own choices." Stilettos as a symbol of female empowerment? Why not?
The boys get some attention, too. Not as iconic as the white suit, Tony Manero's loafers from Saturday Night Fever still rank discussion. After all, Tony window-shops for shoes to the beat of Stayin' Alive less than a minute into the film. Maybe shoes are not just a "girl thing" after all.
If you want a fun look at women and shoes through the 20th century, this book is for you. I had difficulty putting it down, but it was time to put on my big-girl-shoes and go to work. After all, I need more money to buy shoes 😉