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