Did you know that Salvatore Ferragamo made his name in Hollywood? That even though Vogue’s Diana Vreeland instructed Manolo Blahnik to pursue shoes his first footwear flopped? That Christian Louboutin’s red soles are the direct descendants of the red-heeled footwear that distinguished the nobility during the reign of France’s Louis XIV?
You'll learn all this and more in Rachelle Bergstein’s enchanting social history “Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us.” Shoes define us. As Bergstein says:
The story of shoes in the past hundred-plus years is the story of women. . . Women have fought for – and undoubtedly have won – greater freedom and mobility. . . . As culture embraced and then rejected and then reinterpreted new, feminine strides, footwear styles emerged that reflected these advances and allowed women to express their various points of view. . . .It’s having the room to choose – your shoes, your goals, your life.
Bergstein’s snapshot vignettes propel her timeline. From wartime wedges to Dorothy’s iconic Ruby Red Slippers, from Nancy Sinatra’s boots to Courtney Love’s Mary Janes, from Carrie Bradshaw’s closetful of Manolos to enduringly popular Chuck Taylors and Doc Martens, the history of women is viewed through their shoes and the people who shaped podiatric fashion.
It wasn’t so long ago that shoes for most people were functional – not frivolous. Budding Imeldas were thwarted during World War II by strict rationing of shoes. Today, the possibilities are limitless – Saks Fifth Avenue’s shoe floor in its flagship Manhattan store even has its own zip code. From impractical high heels to Chuck Taylors, a woman’s choice in footwear speaks volumes about her. Consider the coveted red-soled – thus immediately identifiable -- Louboutins::
. . .the significance of the red sole can’t be underestimated. Whereas spotting a Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo (or Nicholas Kirkwood or Pierre Hardy or Loeffler Randall) requires a trained eye, identifying a Louboutin takes just a smudge of pop-culture consciousness. Therefore, almost everyone who walks behind a woman wearing Louboutins will be able to recognize them, associate the shoes with their three- to four-digit price tag, and thus venture to guess at the weight of the wearer’s wallet.
Bergstein has delivered a readable and entertaining history that is sure to appeal to the inner Cinderella of anyone who loves shoes and who wants to know why women are endlessly obsessed with shoes. While small black-and-white drawings open each chapter, the book would benefit from additional illustrations or photographs.