Confessions of a foot fashionista

The first blow to my shoe vanity came with pregnancy. Though I happily watched my tummy grow, one day I was alarmed to discover that my feet, too, had swollen, morphing into exact replicas of Fred Flintstone"s boxy caveman tootsies, pouring over the sides of the Carmen Miranda-style slides that, earlier that day, had fit fine.

Realizing it was time to make a fashion decision I thought I"d never have to face, I went out and bought a pair of Birkenstocks. Clad in generously cut cocktail dresses, palazzos or capris, I capered around in those earthy shoes for three months. From this experience I learned two lessons: First, you feel much better if your feet don"t hurt. Second, if you have to go the way of orthopedic footwear, don"t forget to polish your toenails. A little candy apple red goes a long way to boost a girl"s morale. But, babies eventually get born, and feet return to normal long before the rest of the sagging body catches up. While a new mama may run screaming from the dressing room the first time she tries on a new swimsuit, she can always find a shoe that fits. That probably explains women"s unending passion for fabulous footwear. From personal torture devices, otherwise known as "bliss by way of blisters," to cushy comfort, every girl knows the extremes she is willing to undergo in order to reach shoe Nirvana. Think really hard: When you slip into a new pair of shoes, isn"t everything, for one rosy moment, utterly perfect? The battle of the sexes The next blow came with marriage. Unless they"re gay, most husbands don"t understand why anyone needs more than a couple pairs of shoes: dress-up shoes, boots, sneakers, maybe some sandals and they"re ready for anything. So sensibly shod, it"s inconceivable to them why anyone could need more. Such indulgences cause them to sigh. One day, my husband sighed. I stood before him, brandishing a photo of some geranium pink mules I knew would match everything. Surveying all that surrounded him, he sighed at the pumps and sandals usurping his dwindling closet space; sturdy oxfords and boots littering the stair steps; spectators, loafers and sneakers multiplying under our bed. He sighed again and said, "Don"t you think you have enough shoes?" Testing the water After hearing about the shoe excesses of the rich and somewhat famous, I decided to take an informal survey among my friends, just to see. Me: After the major purge a few months ago, I finally took a shoe count when I moved my things to their own closet. I am pleased to report an extremely modest collection of about 30 shoes - giving me license to dash out and do some serious shopping soon. Lori: "What about the ones I keep just for sentimental value?" Off the top of her head, she counted 12 pairs in the attic, 15 in the shoe organizer, several more pairs under the bed, in the entryway and scattered throughout the house. Roughly 48, she thinks. My sister: Estimates about 72 pairs of shoes, but I estimate that about 20 percent of her collection used to be mine, and probably don"t fit her anyway. Melinda: "The names have been changed to protect the small-footed." My small-boned friend says she only has about 20 pairs, pointing out that the selection is severely limited due to the diminutive size of her tootsies. Truth in numbers Taking things to a higher authority, I enlisted my friend Kirk, whose East Coast friends are mainly Top Drawer, Cosmopolitan types, to tell me about other people"s shoes. First, I wondered about his expatriate friend, who, finding it impossible to find decent shoes her size in Greece, has designer shoes shipped to the homes of American friends, who hand-deliver them when visiting her Mediterranean manse. Kirk gave me a sympathetic look. "She has a trust fund," he said, understanding my dilemma. But I wanted exact numbers. "I don"t know," he mused. "Maybe 80? A hundred?" I brightened. "That"s not bad!" He looked at me in disbelief. I told him, according to my estimates, the average girl has roughly 50 pairs of shoes. I pressed on, asking about his friend Candie, as well-known for her writing about loveless sex in New York as her unbridled passion for Manolo Blahnik and Prada. How many sultry sabots could the coolest girl I never met possess? He said he wasn"t sure, but he remembered one afternoon in the "80s when, accompanying her on an impulsive shopping trip, she coolly shelled out $300 for a pair of shoes, without batting an eye. "And that was the "80s," he stressed. I wanted more. Kate? "Maybe a few hundred." Deana? "Oh, 400 or 500. She has entire rooms for them." While these are not normal girls, I, too, have learned that there are ways to build a legendary collection, not by sheer volume, but through careful, sometimes methodical selection, punctuated by the occasional irrational indulgence. Binge and purge After some haggling, it was decided that I would be awarded a naughty pair of mules or some other decidedly decadent foot candy if I first liberated from our home any shoes I no longer wore. So, my purging began. After years of transporting some 60 or so pairs of mostly black shoes from Midwest to East Coast and back, from apartment to duplex to a home of my own, I finally felt a level of maturity that allowed me to dismantle my broad collection. Gone were the once-stylish, well-worn brown suede loafers purchased near 79th and Broadway that I"d kept for sentimental reasons. Due to their painful personalities, all shoes a half or whole size too small were released from custody as well. A few dozen, now-ordinary, boots, oxfords, pumps and sandals were tossed in a box, bound for a new life, as my collection dwindled to nearly half its former size. There were certain shoes I couldn"t part with, like my white satin, flower-trimmed Kenneth Cole wedding shoes, which, though probably never to be seen in public again, I occasionally wear, parading around the house. Some two-toned Patrick Cox wannabes emerge occasionally from the depths of my closet and I sigh over their comfort and smart design, while mourning the unfortunate contrast of color. I can"t part with them: They"re featured in a coffee table book about shoes, for crying out loud. Then there"s the ancient pair of Doc Martin boots, spattered with paint, cracked and worn, and for some reason stored permanently in the trunk of our family car. Who can part with one"s personal history? Love me, love my shoes I did manage to cast off a fair amount of shoes, though, and felt this purging gave me license one evening to throw myself into a pursuit of new footwear. Spurred by rumors of unspeakably low prices in a designer shoe store on our city"s Southside, my friend Jenny and I chose to forgo our weekly walk one balmy evening, hurtling onto the interstate, babies in tow, in search of the ultimate bargain. A few hours later, we were speeding home at top speed; me, anxious to conceal from my husband a pair of strappy sandals, self-consciously chosen to go with my fresh pedicure, and a pair of pink gingham mules Jenny advised me to purchase because they made me feel pretty. But stashed in the bag alongside the sandals and the mules was my defense - the salvation that would make everything right. As I explained to my shopping cohort, when buying new shoes, I like to purchase at least one pair that my husband will find INTERESTING. Married or otherwise attached girls, listen up: If you are desperate to own a particular pair of trendy shoes, buy them. Then buy yourself a second, kittenish pair of sweet nothings to amuse your husband or boyfriend. He will be less likely to complain about your excesses if he can reap the benefits. Just put on those naughty shoes, wriggle up to him and proclaim, "Honey, I got myself a new pair of shoes." Then fling your leg over some part of his anatomy so he can view your seductively clad foot to its best advantage. Follow your instincts, taking full advantage of the rush that can only come from a new pair of shoes, and at some point he will exclaim, "You should buy yourself new shoes more often!" Believe me, he will never notice the loafers or wedge-heeled slides that were your intended purchase. Boys go crazy over a naughty pair of shoes. Living by example My friend Melinda told me her husband once drug her into a shoe store, begging her to try on a pair of extremely naughty, teetering black stilettos. It"s all she can do to walk in them from the closet to the bedroom, but she does so with glee, because she understands that those cunning little shoes are her ticket to unlimited Bass Weejuns, and Feragamo loafers, which look much better with her Talbot suits, anyway. Bless her little preppie heart. DSW Shoe Warehouse 4619 E. 82nd St., Castleton, 570-1937 U.S. 31 South, across from Greenwood Park Mall, 889-2938 I have scooped up $250 Joan and David spectator pumps for as little as $25 in the clearance section of this great shoe lovers" hangout, not to mention the $11 BCBG snakeskin T-strap slippers that go with absolutely nothing. This is one place you"re guaranteed to find affordable designer fashion, even if you walk through the doors with as little as $15. Kick Me 801 Broad Ripple Ave., 202-0233 While I"ve never darkened the door of this shoe place inside hip art and design Mecca, Gilda"s, I must say the dizzying array of fantastic shoes on display has caused me to sit through more than one green arrow as I sat idling, gazing longingly through the window at this prime Broad Ripple location. Plus, it seems every time I admire another girl"s shoes, she tells they"re from Kick Me. Go figure. Birkenstock Sole Satisfaction 2523 Carrolton Ave., Broad Ripple, 251-4215 So sweet were the ladies who own this place when I broke down and got that first pair of sandals, I now own three varieties of Birkenstocks. Best of all, this sensible shoe company has finally caught up with the latest fashions, so stylish girls and guys can finally understand why their hippie counterparts have always been so enamoured with these comfy, earthy favorites! Nordstrom Circle Centre Mall, 130 S. Meridian St., 236-2121 Known for their amazing footwear selection and a sales staff that goes beyond the call of duty, this place even specializes in hard-to-find styles and sizes. In fact, they are perfectly willing to order shoes not on display or accommodate feet of two different sizes.

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