Femme Life: Why I Spend My Money On Shoes

I have a photo inventory of my shoe collection. And I'm not trying to be ashamed of that.

Once upon a time, I had these silver glitter, open-toed, ankle strap, wedge platform sandals. I found them at Ross Dress For Less (a discount store that Lesley visits whenever she visits Florida because she doesn't have them in the frozen Northlands of New England) and spent under $40 on them. They were magical.

I wore them with opaque black tights. I wore them with boot-cut jeans. I wore them with a gnarly homemade Bride of Frankenstein costume that could have gone a lot better than it did.

The wedge platform added about 6 inches to my usual 5'4". And that 6 inches added a whole lot of confidence and swagger to the rest of me. And that was their specific magic. (I told you they were magical.) Even when only the toes peeked out because I was wearing some ridic vintage maxi dress, I knew those shoes were on my feet and I loved how they made me feel.

I have always loved shoes. Even when I was capable of being shamed into not wearing things (whether it be by well-meaning family or peers), I tended to dress kind of funny and favor shoes that were slightly bizarre for their context.

For example, while I only wore them once or twice (both because I didn't want to mess them up and because I was teased viciously the one time I did trot them out at school), I have a crystal clear recollection of the iridescent purple low-top Reeboks (with laces, not velcro) that lived in their shoe box at the back of my childhood closet in the mid-80s. Like, I can picture them with a clarity lacking from the vast majority of the rest of my childhood.

Now, shoes are usually the first thing I think of when it is time to get dressed.

My shoes are also often the first thing people notice about me -- which is kind of a feat, given the fatness and the hair and the, well, taste-dependent outfits.

And even when I dress more conservatively (which I can manage for about a week before I run out of business casual black clothing) in an effort to blend in, my shoes betray me.

Part of this is because, I think, of that old "Fat girls have the best accessories" saying. Jennifer Weiner even wrote a book that begins with this premise, "In Her Shoes," which begins with a sort of rumination on how the main character's feet are a perfect size 8 even if the rest of her is not. (And then there is a lot of stuff about sisters and borrowing shoes.)

And part of it is because interesting shoes are, for many women in business, the place where they can express themselves, be a little more daring, even in the most staid offices. Women are, in many ways, EXPECTED to love shoes.

It's a joke, right? It's like a subset of loving clothes and fashion in general, the idea that all women are obsessed with footwear to the point that those of us who do love shoes for whatever reason are often a little embarrassed or apologetic about it.

(I felt a little zing of over-identification even as I laughed, for example, at the Kelly "Shoes" video that made the rounds a few years ago.)

There's two things, I think, going on here with women and shoes. One is the idea that feminism reacts against -- the idea that if women are caught up in presentation and putting all of their energy into pursuing that, they will have no energy for demanding social change. The other is that, even with that taken into consideration, some women love shoes and then get shamed for it because shoes (and fashion) are "frivolous" and somehow anti-feminist.

Thing is, liking shoes (and "feminine" things in general), isn't actually bad. (And for every feminist who disses femme presentation, there is another set to defend it, so that's good.) Presentation is important for a whole host of reasons and lots of people make shoes a part of it. (Like Fem!)

As much as I try to avoid the socio-political pitfalls of shoes while I write this, in some ways it is impossible. Even when we are simply trading links and exclaiming over good design, shoes still come part and parcel with issues of production, the ethics of materials and their procurement, and the price of both good design and quality that leads to issues of accessibility -- while I feel almost protective of shopping as thing that should just be ENJOYED because it's so hard for me to find clothes, there's no escaping that retail is a minefield.

I'll be honest here, too: Part of me really wants to dig into the politics of footwear and presentation. I love talking about femme identification and femme skills because I think being self-aware and deliberate when it comes to these things is empowering -- and it provides us with an opportunity to make a little sly social commentary.

But another part of me just wants to talk about how awesome pretty shoes are. The politics aren't going away. But I have a hard time escaping the basic idea that shoes are objects of beauty.

At their best, shoes are art you can wear. I don't just mean those exquisite and delicate heels that wind up in museums either. The engineering that goes into a running shoe is incredible and totally beautiful in its own way. Shoes that cannot be comfortably worn just aren't as attractive to me, no matter how much effort went into making them lovely. Because a shoe is a practical thing.

I freelance, at least in part, so I that I can buy things like shoes without feeling guilty about it. I tend to buy expensive shoes these days because they are more comfortable and will last longer -- but also because they tend to be more interesting looking. I'd make a crack about supporting my shoe habit, but then I'd get distracted talking about how equating shoes with addictive drugs is just another way to belittle the interest people have in presentation. Ahem.

(But seriously, I feel like those jokes are also an attempt to absolve ourselves of responsibility for loving the things that we love. If we're addicted, well, we just can't help ourselves, right? That bothers me.) (It also minimizes the reality of addiction, which is a whole lot more serious than, "I just really love shoes.")

Expensive shoes (and even that "expensive" label is relative and almost constantly in flux) are a privilege, of course. And before I could afford the shoes I buy now, I scoured discount and thrift stores for shoes that spoke to me. (Amazon.com often has great sales on Dr. Martens, just so you know.) But I still refused to suffer for my love of shoes -- which is why it is only in the last year or two that I've really gotten into wearing heels. (You can see my photo inventory of my shoes, which needs updating!)

If you believe that you cannot wear heels, which is a sentiment I often hear from fat women, it is actually possible that you need to try a high heel that is better made. Shoes are a case where price really often does dictate a better product made with better materials.

Of course, it's also possible that you just can't walk in heels -- because heels are not designed for quick and stable movement. And you shouldn't have be apologetic about that either.

I've crossed the line into owning more than 50 pairs of shoes now. By some standards, that is nothing. But by my own, it's a whole hell of a lot. I rationalize it by reminding myself, some of my shoes are nearly 20 years old. It's time to get my very first pair of Fluevogs resoled, for example, because I bought them in 1997 and the uppers are still in fantastic shape but I've walked the rubber right off the bottom.

My newest way to get over my own socially indoctrinated guilt about having a lot of shoes? When I don't have to wear the same pair every day, every pair lasts longer. With leather shoes especially, you're supposed to give each pair a day of rest (at least one day) between wearings so the shoe can air out (and dry out if you're particularly sweaty). Your foot benefits from some variety as well, with your muscles and tendons doing better if you're changing the game up on them from day to day.

Really though, whether my collection is sourced from thrift stores and Payless (as it once was) or the Fluevog store, the truth is that having a large collection of shoes is awesome because it gives you options. If I need a pair of purple granny boots, I have two to choose from. And it isn't like that money would be sitting in my savings account if I hadn't purchased those shoes.

That's the other source of the guilt, isn't it? It starts with fashion being frivolous and turns into what else we could have spent that money on. Or how much more money we could have in savings, if we're lucky enough to even have anything in savings.

I'm not even up for mentally calculating how much money I've spent on shoes over the years, even in the face of Alison owning up to how much she spends on beauty each year. But I do know that every penny of that worth has been worth it -- even if I don't have the shoes any longer, each pair has been a brick in the wall of my style, an exploration and an experiment. I admire minimalists, but I don't want to be one.

Follow Marianne's links to the shoes she's drooling over on Twitter: @TheRotund.