The shoe conundrum: Why one pair is never enough

Yesterday, I made a startling discovery. My boss was hiding 16 pairs of shoes under her desk. 

I had no idea until I walked into her office and saw a Nordstrom’s shopping bag over flowing with flats, pumps, open-toed, and t-straps.

 “What’s up with the shoes?” I asked. “Are you donating them?”  

 “Oh god, no,” she said as she held up a sleek pair of black patent leather Kate Spade flats. “I was just trying to get some order in my office.” 

Nothing like being validated by a big bag of shoes. I was relieved to learn that in the environment in which I now worked, the eight pairs of pumps, two boots, a pair of sneakers and a pair of flip flops in MY office closet was normal – or at least expected.  I wasn’t the only one overcome by the need to have the corresponding shoe for the corresponding outfit.  Turns out, if I collected all the shoes tossed effortlessly under desks around here, I could open up a fully stocked DSW.   

But this is not about hoarding shoes for the love of shoes. It’s about something much bigger. What to wear on our feet is a major conundrum of women who work in the city and it’s a phenomenon unique to our demographic. The reality is we all share this dirty little secret. 

Our feet are killing us.

I know you’re perplexed. You’re saying: Why don’t you go out and get yourself a pair of comfortable shoes? But to ask that is like asking a lemming why he runs himself off a cliff – it’s how we’re wired. You could argue that a lemming doesn’t have to drive himself over the edge but the same would hold true for wearing shoes that pinch and cramp and birth some of the biggest, meanest blisters ever recorded. It’s a choice: take the dive or spend a lifetime as a lone lemming. Ugly shoes or sore feet. The lemming chooses to jump, we choose sore feet.

Yup. We are Dr. Scholl’s target market. Here, Orthotic is a dirty word.

Still, not one of us would argue that blisters and toes that pinch aren’t our tormentors – and that some day our feet will pay the price. Still, we ask ourselves, “Why can they send a man to the moon but they can’t make a comfortable pair of shoes that aren’t ugly?”  We continue to hope that the perfect shoe is out there – somewhere. We put our faith in shoes that have Nike Air inserts and sneaker-like insoles and ones that shape our leg and butt muscles. We buy them all and say, “Oh, these are the ones.” And after walking in them for half a day we realize it’s just another pretty shoe. Toss that pair under the desk.  When a coworker says, “let’s take a cab” we all nod in a show of solidarity.

 The reason we need so many pairs of shoes – and, well, such a variety of shoes – and why we continue to wear shoes that have such power over us – is complicated. When you work in an office environment with a dress code, the shoe factor is omnipresent.  Take pant length, for example. Your pants are hemmed long so you can wear heels, but the shoes that you wear to work are flat. Your pants will drag. What do you do? Flip flops (the most comfortable of shoes) and sneakers are not acceptable footwear here. Sometimes it’s a matter of color or style. There are zillion shades of blacks and browns and some skirts look good with open toe shoes, some require a traditional pump. And then there is the matter of comfort. Wear a practical looking pump for comfort while you’re at your desk, but swap them for a stiletto heeled pump when you need to be bad ass in a meeting. Do the math. One pair of shoes will not cut it here.  

 I have yet to find a woman who has the perfect solution. On any given day, most women here wear three different pairs of shoes depending on whether they’ll be walking outside, in meetings, or participating in an event that requires a lot of standing – or running up and down the stairs. And why do we keep them under our desk? Simple: So we don’t have to carry shoes in our bags and over our aching shoulders.

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How I learned to purge my clothes closet

Now that the fall season is upon us and winter is at our heels, I finally got down to business yesterday cleaning my clothes closets. I do this periodically, in season or not, only because I can’t stand a messy closet. My motto: Clean closet, restful soul. The same goes for what’s under my bed.

But after a morning spent purging, folding, hanging and sorting, I barely made a dent. Oh sure, I dumped the obvious – a stained blouse, shoes that are painful to wear (no matter how many Dr. Scholl pads I put in them), boxy, unfitted jackets and forest green trousers that make my ass look twice its size (what was I thinking?)

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The purple boots get tossed

But I held onto items – a pair of purple tweed boots with stiletto heels and a green quilted suede jacket, for example, things I had not worn in years. I had no compelling reason to keep it or to toss it. I was in organizational limbo.

As a result, I still had a closet full of clothes and shoes and handbags taking up precious space. And to be honest, the excuse for holding on to these things has nothing to do with sentimental attachment  (like when it’s time to let go of your daughters’ baby clothes). Nope. It’s because, you never know when you’ll need a pair of purple ankle boots. Right.  Everybody knows that defense would never hold up in the Stacy and Clinton court of law.

This morning I worked on a client’s SWOT analysis, a method used to evaluate a business project based on its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. When I was a kid, my dad called this “The Ben Franklin Method.” Probably, Ben used this method to determine that a volunteer fire department was a good idea or that this country needed a post office.

Indeed, a SWOT analysis can be highly effective in determining whether an organization keeps or nixes a project . So I was thinking: could it work for deciding whether to toss a pair of shoes?  

As it turns out, it can.

Although a SWOT analysis can be complex, delving into such issues as budget constraints, local and global competition, market saturation and user acceptance, I used the basic analysis methodology – the grid – and it looks like this:

Strengths

Weaknesses

Opportunities

Threats

My first item: the purple tweed boots

Strengths

Very sassy looking

Moderately comfortable

Jazzes up a pair of black pants

Could wear with Halloween witch costume

Weaknesses

Style is dated

Could wear with a witch costume

Heels are high and difficult to walk on

Can only wear with black

The zipper gets stuck

Haven’t worn them in three years

Have lost their initial Wow! Those are sassy appeal

Opportunities

Could come back in style

I might dress up as a witch for Halloween and need them

Might be a conversation starter

Could consign them to Linda’s and maybe someone, looking for shoes to wear with a witch costume will buy them. Could make a couple of bucks.

Threats

Could twist an ankle trying to walk in them

Break a nail trying to pull up the zipper

Become a forgotten item taking up space in my closet

Be seen wearing them with a witch’s costume

I tossed the purple tweed boots.

Next item: Green suede jacket.

Strengths

It’s a great “in between” seasons jacket

Stand out color

Suede is soft

Weaknesses

Boxy shape

Stiff

Slightly oversized

Color is odd

Wore it only one season

Haven’t worn it in two years

Opportunities

Could keep it in the back of my car just in case I needed a light weight green suede jacket

All it needs is the right scarf to complete the look

Threats

It’s expensive to clean

Could be mistaken for a Coldwater Creek model while wearing it.

Bye-bye green suede jacket.

So it went on like this for a few more items, but once I got into the groove it wasn’t necessary to actually fill out the grid. I did the rest in my head, which then became a mental exercise in getting a grip. Toss, toss, toss became my motto. I culled 33 items (in under two hours) – four pairs of pants, two cocktail dresses, five skirts, six shirts, six sweaters, a pair of boots, three jackets and six belts.  I didn’t do the analysis for every item, just the ones I had a hard time pitching. And as it turned out, there wasn’t one item that I was on the fence on that I kept – go figure.

Using the SWOT analysis to clean my closet was frankly, brilliant and I highly recommend it to anyone staring into their closets at this moment wondering what to wear tomorrow.  

Now, open my closet and it’s lined with only my favorites, my white T-shirts with bright white collars organized by sleeve length, long dresses and trousers hung just so they skim the closet floor, knee length skirts lounge in a wide palette of color and texture and every pair of shoes has a box. It makes me giddy.

My closet is no longer a dark and mysterious jungle. My closet is neat. My soul is restful. Let’s go shopping.

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Why I still wear pantyhose (oh, the horror!)

If there is one fashion rule that has me utterly perplexed it is the current opinion of popular stylists that wearing pantyhose is a big no-no. 

Uh, oh. 

I recently gave advice on wearing pantyhose to a friend of mine that obviously dates me. Big time. 

Sue, who lives in Las Vegas and is my age, emailed me the other day with this Fashion Question: 

“I have an evening wedding to go to in Massachusetts in October. Question is: what do you wear on your legs? I haven’t worn “stockings” in years, tights seem too heavy, boots don’t seem dressy enough?” 

Here was my answer:

 “I’d wear stockings, unless of course the shoes are open toe. But then again, I probably wouldn’t wear an open toe in October because then I wouldn’t know what to do about the stockings.  Jobst ultrasheer 20-30 pantyhose

“The only time I WOULDN’T wear stockings to a formal occasion is if it were a warm weather affair or if I was wearing a floor length dress with open toes. Now, having said that, you will most likely see young girls wearing dresses with open toes and NO stockings. It could be the dead of winter and I’ve seen girls go bare legged. 

“So, clearly the rules have changed dramatically on the stockings thing and if you chose not to wear stockings it would be perfectly acceptable, of course. Still, I prefer to wear stockings in the cooler months for more sensible reasons: 1. I don’t like the way my legs look without them when I’m wearing a cocktail dress and 2. because it’s probably not warm enough to go outside without something on my legs. 

“When I do wear stockings, they are most often nude. I rarely do shades anymore, not even black with a black cocktail dress. So something that looks bare, but you still have something on your legs to get a smoother look is what I’d recommend.” 

But after giving Sue what I thought was sound advice about this pantyhose conundrum, I happened upon a couple of fashion how-to books that mentioned several times that wearing pantyhose is dreadfully out of date. Wearing them makes you look “like an old lady.” Bare legs give us “over 40” that “young and hip” look. Oh, really? 

Obviously, they’ve never seen my bare legs. 

Fashion guru (and a designer for a line of Target brand fashions) Isaac Mizrahi in his book “How to Find Your Style” says he is adamant about NO PANTYHOSE (especially nude) EVER! While admittedly my confidence in giving sound pantyhose advice started to wan, I thought, OK, one man’s opinion. 

But then I read “How Not to Look Old” by Charla Krupp. Here’s what she says about wearing pantyhose: 

“My biggest legwear challenge is what to do when it’s freezing out and I’m all dressed up. I do try to go bare legged for evening whenever possible, but when heading out the door in subfreezing temperatures, bare legs simply won’t work. And since the only thing worse than wearing the wrong stockings is revealing frozen, goose-bumpy legs, it’s important to find a chic solution.   If you’re wearing a light-colored dress, try nude fishnet stocking (instead of nude sheer stockings). With a black dress, you can get away with very sheer black stocking or black fishnets. And if you dare, at least when wearing a short skirt or dress for evening, consider Isaac Mizrahi’s option: opaque black tights with peep-to pumps.” 

So, I’m thinking this woman is as confused about formal leg wear in the winter as anybody. But NO NUDE and wear FISHNETS OR TIGHTS?? They’re kidding, right? I get that hair that doesn’t move and “mom jeans” and ill-fitting bras make you look old. But nude pantyhose? I’m stumped. 

Although I’m sure this says VOLUMES about how shallow I am, the idea of pantyhose dating me without understanding why was driving me insane. And so my OCD kicked in. I went into my drawer and pulled out a pair of nude stockings and a pair of black tights. (Sorry, I don’t own, will NEVER own, a pair of fishnets) and tried them on with a couple of cocktail dresses. One dress was solid black, the other a black print, and one a light bronze with colored embroidery. First, the nude. The only way you could tell if I had on nude stockings was 1. by looking really close, and 2. that my legs looked smoother. Second, the black tights. 1. I looked like an Italian widow, and 2. my ankles looked thick with the pretty, sexy, pumps.   

Isaac and Charla you are nuts. Further, you’re not taking into consideration what standing on a pair of legs for 40 or 50 years and having babies does to our legs. And this other idea of leg spray? I don’t think so. For the life of me, I cannot see the problem with nude stockings in the colder months. Especially, since most of us are whiter than white in the fall and winter. If I went bare legged to a formal affair, I would look dreadful. So, I’ve decided that this is fashion advice I will not pay attention to. 

But it STILL begs the question: Why do nude pantyhose make you look “old?” If someone out there has a compelling argument, please let me know.  None of us wants Sue to show up at this wedding looking fashionably old, least of all Sue. 

So, in the meantime, I’ve altered my advice a bit. If you’re over 40 and you’ve got GREAT legs, go for it. Go bare legged. But if not, for goodness sake wear pantyhose.

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My Mother’s Shoes

 

My mother was raised in a fashion era when handbags matched shoes and shoes matched outfits and outfits were haute couture.  The third eldest of eight children, my mother grew up poor in a house where food, not fashion, was the priority. She was not considered beautiful then. She was too tall, too big, too strong.

In the short time my mother was on her own before marrying my father, her fashion sense bust loose and her love of shoes emerged.

My mother at a wedding in April. She still has fabulous taste in shoes.

My mother at a wedding in April. She still has fabulous taste in shoes.

One minute there was an overweight gawky child with second hand clothes. The next, there was a stunningly beautiful woman with a made-to-fit outfit and dynamite shoes. I look back on photos of her then and she was the perfect mix of elegance, class and sex appeal.

 

The irony, of course, is that my mother never considered herself sexy. She was a wife and a mother and had a full-time job.   

But, oh, her shoes, they transformed her.

My mother had a ritual when dressing up to go out for a special occasion. I would bask in each step of the process: The bath. The powder under the breasts. The Tigress fragrance. The good bra and girdle, the good stockings, the fitted dress, the pearls. The red lipstick.

The shoes.

Black patent leather stiletto pumps with heels so sharp and lethal she should have had a license to wear them. They screamed sexy.

I would lie on her bed and watch as she pulled the shoebox off the shelf and fold aside the tissue paper to reveal its secret.  When she slipped on those shoes, it was the climax, the finale. My admiration and envy were the standing ovation.

On Saturday, my mother turns 80, which got me thinking about her when she was young and I was little and played with her shoes. She suffers from arthritis and has difficulty walking, now. She hasn’t put on a pair of stiletto pumps in 20, maybe 30 years. Still, she never fails to admire a well-designed, well made pump. I watch her as she walks by the shoes in the department store.  She’ll pick up a shoe, comment on the color or the quality of the leather and might say, “Now, I like that kind of heel.” Now, her shoes have soft, flat soles and are, for the most part, utilitarian. But every once in a while she’ll squeeze her swollen feet into a pair of classic black pumps with a more modest heel, but still, I sense a little bit of sexiness about to burst out. And I wonder if she longs for the days when shoes matched outfits and outfits were haute couture. I know I do.

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Cutting myself some slack

I have a confession. Some times I just sit here and stare into space instead of looking for a job. Some days, I can barely bring myself to do it. I AM SO SICK of tweaking cover letters and resumes and sending them out into the black hole known as APPLY ONLINE. I am so tired of telling my so-what-are-you-doing-now story. I wish I had the nerve to say, “you know, here’s what I do: I sit on my ass most of the day, eating cinnamon toast and oranges.” Honestly, if I let myself, I could slide right into dinner and bedtime without having moved more than 40 feet (the distance from the couch, to the bathroom, to the kitchen and back again.) Some days, I don’t brush my teeth.

Searching for work has never been easy

Searching for work has never been easy

The truth of the matter is, I don’t do idle very well. Not because I’m some superhero, it’s because I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t. Trust me, I’d rather hide in my closet than face another day of job hunting.  I’m tired of being upbeat. I’m tired of saying to myself (and to others) that this is an opportunity for me to do something interesting and terrific (because I don’t always believe it.) Some days I search with vigor, other days, it’s a half-ass attempt. Some people consider my determination a sign of moxie, gumption, true grit. But I think it’s a sign that I’m just burning myself out. 

Today, I took a shower, brushed my teeth and put on clean jeans. I applied for two jobs. (This is more of an exercise than anything else because I’m starting to believe there’s no one on the other end of that APPLY tab. I don’t expect to hear anything anymore. Having your hopes dashed day after day can suck the optimism out of the best of us.) I contacted two former colleagues to see what they were doing and schedule lunch. Perhaps they’ll have some freelance work. I work a little on an online media curriculum that I’m developing and do more research for a contracted SEO project.

 If I knew all my efforts were leading to a job, I’d dig until my knuckles were raw. But, sometimes I wonder if I’ll EVER get another job. I wonder if there is something more I can be doing. I call people I know to see if they know someone who knows someone who can get me an interview. I’ve got a blog, a website, I do pro bono work, I make cold calls, I do follow ups, I make a few bucks doing freelance and consulting. I stalk people on Linkedin and Twitter. It’s exhausting.

It’s time for a new strategy. 

 After three months, I have come to terms that a full-time job may not be around the corner. So I’m making plans, something I couldn’t bring myself to do two months ago. I decided to put more balance into my week. I’m letting go of the fear that if I skip a day of looking for a job, I’ll have missed some great opportunity. I don’t think it works that way. So I’m giving myself permission, heck, forcing myself,  not to take it all so seriously all the time.  If I chose to sit on my ass all day I won’t feel guilty about it. I’m going to go out more and do the things I couldn’t do when I worked full-time; go to the museums on a week day, walk to the Dairy Queen with Lenore  when she gets home from school because the weather is sunny and warm,  let my friend Carolyn make me breakfasts that last until lunch without having to worry about the time, and read a book in the middle of the day and not get up until it’s finished. Plan a road trip with my sister that takes us everywhere and nowhere. This week, I’m helping a friend who owns a consignment store in town sort and tag clothes. Business is booming and she can use the help. I can use some place to go.  

The mother of a friend of my daughter said to me the other day when she learned I had been laid off, “Oh, that’s great, now you have all this time!” I thought she was nuts – and clueless. News flash: I LIKE working. But her comment stuck with me and while I still wouldn’t wish unemployment on anyone, I’m realizing now it’s  important to embrace the time off. Not waste it, but make the most of it.  I’m cutting myself some slack. So  if you find me Monday, sitting on my ass, still in my pajamas at noon watching The View, only chastise me a little – and then ask me to go for a brisk walk to the little bakery downtown for hot tea and a cupcake where we won’t talk about the economy. 

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What was that you said?

I like loud music as much as the next person. On a spring day you can hear me coming down the street – car windows open, music blaring. But, for the life of me, I cannot understand why, in stores that cater to a young demographic, they insist on playing the music so loud. It’s a wonder anyone can think. Jokes aside about the people working in these stores and their IQs, but honestly, does the music have to be cranked? What’s up with that?

I took Lenore shopping on Saturday and the music in Aeropostale was so loud I found it impossible to shop.  Sales clerks had to shout. I had to shout at Lenore and I must have said “WHAT?” a dozen times. If me making her shop for less revealing tops didn’t make her insane, that sure did. At Hollister, the pounding from the music was so loud it gave me a headache. Not that the fact that this “cool” store refers to boys as “dudes” and girls as “bettys” wasn’t enough to give me a headache. I had to leave. 

I just wonder, with some of these kids growing up with headsets, has their hearing been so destroyed that music that’s loud to me isn’t loud to them? Or, is their hearing still so sharp that they can hear people talk despite the loud music?

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Smarties outrage just dumb

imagesMy cousin, Judy, forwarded this Wall St. Journal article to me recently, with the  comment that even she’d pass on worrying about this one. Apparently, some kids can blow “smoke” from Smarties candies.  Parents and teachers are outraged and fearful that this trend will make smoking look cool.  I don’t know. But if I were 10, I’d think the kid that could blow Smartie smoke out of his nose would be more funny than cool. The fact that the smoking Smarties article took itself seriously is a sad commentary on our society of worry-addicted parents and educators who seem to have nothing better to do, or at best are just avoiding real issues. News flash: Kids who want to look cool “smoking” will do it with a real cigarette; probably from a pack they stole out of your purse.

When they start snorting crushed Smarties, then I’ll raise an eyebrow.

On the other hand, I don’t think the You Tube videos showing how to smoke Smarties are particularly funny, and ok, maybe the kids are a bit weird, but I don’t think they’re dangerous. These kids might end up in jail, but I don’t think it’s because they’ve smoked Smarties.

 The Girls Club (where I took swim lessons every Friday until I was in high school) had a candy counter stocked with penny candy. With a nickel, you could get FIVE packs of Smarties. I would unwrap them, holding them together with my thumb and index finger and run the line under the water spout. Then I’d suck on the saturated Smarties until they dissolved into my mouth. Adults didn’t pay attention to kids back then, but if they had, would they have seen this as a sign of a dangerous, drug-like trend? Perhaps. But nobody did care. We must have had other things to worry about in the early 70s. 

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