Footwear postcards from the V nad A
For me, shoes have often been a cause for stress. I have that 'extra-wide' foot problem that has limited my choices over the years but especially in the teenage years when I wanted to make the most impact. Primary school was generally alright as everyone in the 1970's wore Clark’s shoes to school. Although, I was tormented one summer by a pair of yellow T bar sandals that I was made to wear. They were the only ones in stock that fitted my extra wide feet on the day we went shoe shopping. We only went shoe shopping twice a year; a summer and winter expedition for school shoes. I didn’t really own any other shoes. Every day, looking down at my yellow sandals I wished that my feet would drop off. Winter could not come soon enough.
Secondary school was much worse. The clothes were regimentally standard; an A line blue skirt, a white blouse and a school cardigan. However, there was a lot more flexibility about the style of footwear along as it was ‘sensible’ and black. Some girls were creative about the word sensible but in our house it only meant one thing ‘Clark’s’ shoes. It was footwear and school bags that helped determine which group you fell into; Cool, Sporty, Geek or a Misfit. I had one foot in the Geek and Misfit camps. It didn’t help that I had a briefcase, studied all the science subjects and had homemade jelly in my packed lunches but my wide-fitting Clark's shoes at secondary school was a massive label. Looking back, I suffered from a lack in confidence and definitely felt like an ugly duckling. The upside is that my feet are in good order and like my mum promised I have been bunion free as an adult.
Well, this was what I discovered.
Humans are intriguing animals. They prioritise fashion over function. Humans started wearing functional footwear e.g. straw or animal skins wrapped around their feet to protect their feet from the cold when they migrated further North. Footwear otherwise has been about status and fashion, for example, only the wealthy Egyptians wore sandals and the slaves were always barefooted.
The majority of shoes are not about comfort! They signify social status, seduction, performance and culture more than the need to protect ones feet.
I loved this quote from the exhibition ‘Shoes punish and reward, elevate and entrap, speed and hinder through their powers of transformation’
A pair of shoes can change your life: you only need to ask Cinderella.
Even 10 minutes got my mind running about the impact of footwear in society and then how it had affected me personally.
1800's China (for bound feet)
This week I dipped my toes into the world of footwear.
I had planned a relaxing Saturday morning enjoying the delights of the V and A museum exhibition ‘Shoes: Pleasure or Pain’ followed by a fun afternoon with ‘The Girls’ watching Kinky Boots at The Adelphi Theatre. ‘The Girls’ are my sisters-in-law on my husband’s side of the family. We meet up a couple of times a year and are trying to catch up with ‘The Jolly Boys’ who have managed to organise some great trips including Las Vegas and Marbella. Kinky Boots, drinks and a Mexican meal near Covent Garden is one step closer to Vegas but I definitely think we can go bigger. I'm thinking an overnight spa is on the cards.
I got off to a bad start. I was dropped off at the station to find a ghost platform and engineering works on the overground tracks. Oh well I thought I'll head to Epping to catch the underground. My heart sank when I parked-up at Epping and there were no central line trains. Refusing to be defeated I hopped back in the car, battled with the weekend shopping traffic and I finally got parked at Westfield shopping centre. I jumped on the underground and arrived over an hour and a half late for my timed entry to the V and A. I had resolved to cry if they refused my entry but luckily it wasn’t necessary. unfortunately, I only had 10 minutes left to whizz around the exhibition before setting off to the theatre.
The funny thing about only having 10 minutes in a crowded exhibition was that it made me focused.
What caught my eye?
Special Footwear Exhibition Sign
V & A Museum: Shoes: Pleasure and Pain
The Girls: Best Foot Forward
The Girls finished the day with a couple of fancy cocktails and a tasty Mexican, with our feet safely tucked under the table. We ended the evening with a footwear photo shoot to celebrate footwear and the Kinky Boot experience before we headed home.
So after a quick dash around the exhibition I raced off to The Adelphi Theatre. I must admit my feet were a little sore and I had a very slight limp. I hadn't factored in the walk home from the station to get my car, trek across Westfield shopping centre, a run through the museum tunnels at South Kensington, a swift pace around the exhibition and then a brisk walk up The Strand. I can honestly say that I would have appreciated my comfortable yellow T bar sandals as I trekked around London.
Kinky Boots was great fun and The Girls really enjoyed the up-beat music. I was secretly envious of Lola's (the transvestite) slim body, sexy long legs and super cool dance moves. Although I would not be brave enough to wear the Kinky boots I have recently bought myself my first ever pair of red shoes.
I love a cheesy musical but what I loved even more was the message of adapting, transformation and acceptance that Lola successfully imparts. It is cool to be different but you need to rock it with confidence with the help of eye-catching footwear!
The fact that it is based on the true story of a Northampton shoe factory adds to the shows charm. Northampton was the centre of the shoe manufacturing industry in its day. Many of the factories closed because they couldn't compete with the cheap imports. W.J Brooks Ltd were asked if they would produce shoes and boots for the transvestite market and Divine Footwear was born. The idea of Kinky Boots, the film and musical followed. Whilst the creative offshoots have flourished the shoe factory closed in 2000. It is bitter sweet because there are a much bigger variety for folk like me from a niche market; very wide, very narrow, extra long and a whole host of others including women's shoes for men. Whilst cheap imports may have made footwear more inclusive it has been sadly at the cost of the quality UK footwear industry.
Recently I embraced my wider feet and treated myself to my first pair of red shoes.