Have you happy feet? Or would you opt for a bit of cankle-sucking? Some weirdness is afoot in the impossible world of women’s shoes.
Now that summer’s here, thank God I’m happy with my cascade. What a relief. Given that, until recently, I didn’t know what it was or that I even had one, I’m mightily relieved that, now that I know what it is, I’m OK with it.
In the world of cosmetic surgery, there are certainly bits of me that might/could/would benefit from a bit of an overhaul but my cascade is, if not actually a thing of beauty, not a cause of angst to me. I wouldn’t be mortified, like, if anyone saw it. I’ve been baring it for years without as much as a second thought. I’ve walked down public streets with it on full show; I’ve whipped it out in fitting rooms with nary a second thought; and I’d show it to anyone who asked me.
Don’t worry. I’m not baring any naughty bits. The cascade is simply the curve of the toes. The arc from the tip of the big toe down to the little pinky. And, it seems, the shape of that curve is a source of anxiety and embarrassment for some. They don’t like the shape of it and don’t want it to be seen. Any little imperfection or irregularity in the curve of the arc is deemed to be calamitous and seriously compromises the wearing of open-toed footwear.
Accordingly, it has become the latest part of the female anatomy to present itself on the cosmetic surgeon’s table for a little bit of cosmetic podiatry. Toes are lengthened or shortened as required in order to effect the perfect, curvy arc. And, while they’re at it, they might have a bit of liposuction on their cankles – the cankles being the area where the calf of the leg meets the ankle and might not be slim enough to do justice to the latest Jimmy Choos or Christian Louboutins. In the US, women pay anything from about $1,500 to have a single toe reshaped to $15,000 for more fancy footwork that will leave them with picture-perfect tootsies that they’ll be happy to shove into yet more impossible shoes.
All of which brings me on to that age-old question. What is it with us women and our shoes? Why do they call to us? And why do the most impossible ones call the loudest? Against every sensible bone in my body and despite the sure and certain knowledge that ill-fitting footwear is dynamite, I could still be silly about shoes. The only reason I’m not is that I’ve already paid the price of a decade in platforms and am now pretty much confined to flat, ugly things. But I still go all quivery in shoe shops. I could still kill for a kitten heel or salivate over a stiletto.
And just because this new trend for cosmetic podiatry was born in the USA doesn’t mean that it won’t hit this side of the pond. Already, cosmetic surgeons in the UK are reporting an increase in the demand for liposuction with at least some of that increase attributed to a bit of cankle-sucking. And Irish women, I’ll wager, are no different. As it is, I know several women who will go to extraordinary lengths to pursue their passion for shoes.
About ten years ago, I interviewed a woman who owned 60 pairs of shoes – not including flip-flops or runners. Of those 60 pairs, 50 of them were what she described as “elegant” shoes. In other words, high heels. The other 10 pairs were work shoes but even they had a three-inch heel. Shoes, she told me, spoke to her. She loved the smell of them and the look of them. The more different and daring they are, the better she likes them. She had a large wardrobe in her room dedicated to shoes. Every so often, she cleared it out to make room for new purchases but it broke her heart to part with some of the “old friends”. She often organised her working day around shoes. If, for instance, she spotted a pair of shoes in a shop window, she’d re-jig her day to get there. And, if they were on sale, she’d certainly be there first thing in the morning. Many times, she admitted, she’d bought shoes that she knew would ultimately lead to buying a whole new outfit.
And furthermore, she admitted that many times she’d bought shoes that didn’t fit. They fell into what she called the “must have” category. Shoes that, even though they didn’t fit, she would struggle her way into and suffer. Her trick was to wear thick socks, squeeze into the shoes and run them in around the house for a while before she’d venture out in public. At the time, she was spending a small fortune on shoes but she said she didn’t care. She would, she told me, go hungry for shoes.
Ten years ago, owning 60 pairs of shoes was something of a nine-day wonder. Nowadays, it’s not so remarkable. In the last decade, possibly thanks to the popularity of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex And The City coupled with the late lamented economic boom, women have become more open and honest about their love of shoes. I texted four friends and asked them to give an approximate figure for pairs of shoes owned excluding runners and flip-flops. The lowest figure that came back was “about 25”. (And I don’t believe her. I know her.)
And the designers are feeding the frenzy. Christian Louboutin, who has popularized extreme heels, was rumoured to be launching 8-inch heels a couple of years ago. At the time, he was reported to have said: “I hear they can be painful, but women keep asking for them.” I don’t think they ever really caught on, though. Who could walk in them? Even if they were sober? Add drink into the equation and say hello to plaster of Paris. And besides, the notion of eight-inch heels has to be rambling into the fetish-not-fashion territory.
Just last night, though, a pair of Louboutin eight-inch heels went under the hammer at a silent auction in aid of the English National Ballet. Impossible-looking creations mimicking the traditional ballet pump, they’re covered with Swarovski crystals and sport red soles. Whoever buys them would need to have a fairly robust cascade. But buy them someone will. And if they can’t wear them, they’ll simply worship them.
Nobody, it seems, wants to be an ugly sister. Everyone wants to be the Cinderella with a perfect cascade and pretty shoes. Indeed, in his retelling of that famous Cindefella tale in 1910, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch stated:
‘“But the chief mark of a lady,” said her godmother, eyeing her with approval, “is to be well shod,” and so saying she pulled out a pair of glass slippers, into which Cinderella poked her toes doubtfully, for glass is not as a rule an accommodating material for slippers.”’.
But who knows? Maybe Cinders had her cascade and her cankles sorted.
There’s no doubt about it – we’re funny about our footwear.
If the shoe fits, we’ll wear it. And if it doesn’t, we’ll make it.