‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain at the V&A’ and the Girl Who Has No Shoes

Shoe fetishists and fashionistas: step into your Manolo Blahniks and march your way towards the V&A! You’ve got till 31 January 2016 to see their special fashion exhibition ‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain’ and admire some rare gems.

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Unlike most women (or men) I have no special interest in shoes. I mostly want them to be comfortable. I do like the look of stiletto heels and admire women who can walk in them. I remember falling in love with a pair that had metal stilleto heels and trying them on a few years ago. After a few seconds of merely standing still in them my calves immediately cramped up and I had to figure out how to take them off as quickly as possible without falling over. That was the shortest lived love-affair I’ve ever had.

Shoes in fairy tales and folklore

The shoe exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum therefore didn’t necessarily appeal to me, but as I was killing time in the area one afternoon I decided to quickly pop in. And boy, my secret persona of a shoe admirer manifested itself just while reading the exhibition introductory notes. They explained how boys and girls grow up with the idea of transformation through shoes. Think of folklore and fairy tales as Cinderella with her glass mules and Karen who can’t stop dancing in her red shoes. Boys (and cats) get special powers when they put on their boots in old fairytales, often enabling them to fly.

In modern folklore shoes still have a magical attribute. The shoes of the world’s best football players are marketed as if they give the wearer special powers, while high-end fashion designers and icons such as Sarah Jessica Parker retain that romantic fairy tale image. Furthermore shoes are considered as status symbols and have great sex appeal (think of sexy heels).

Unfortunately visitors aren’t allowed to take any photos in the exhibition (not that this stops everyone from doing so anyway…) so here are some photos I took from the V&A website. In addition to showcasing historical shoes and extraordinary elaborate ones like the ones below, the exhibition also zooms into the manufacturing process and modern hi-tech techniques with videos and sketches from shoe gurus such as Christian Louboutin.

To explore the interactive shoe timeline on the V&A website, click here.

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‘Parakeet’ shoes by Caroline Groves (England, 2014)

Shoes throughout history

Some historical shoes facts from the exhibition:
  • The oldest shoes in the exhibition date from 50BC.
  • The tale of the ‘slipper test’ (Cinderella) can be traced back to 1st-century Egypt.
  • Buckle shoes were very popular mid 20th century. They were based on the shoes of the 17th-century Puritans.
  • Chopine shoes (see photo above) originate from Spain (chapíns) and were used as protective overshoes to protect the shoes underneath from the dirty streets. (Streets weren’t as clean or nicely paved back then as they are now.) The footwear made its way to England where they were at first worn by the lower-class. As the chopines grew in esteem, their height grew as well. They were especially popular in Venice, where heels got up to a dazzling 54 cm!
  • Early 16th century so-called ‘duckbills’ (named after duck beaks because they have the same shape) were fashionable men’s shoes.
  • In the 17th century curious shoes with the charming name of ‘slap-slap soles’ were all the rage for a few decades. A flat sole underneath a heeled shoe combined style with practicality. The resulting slap-slap sound created when walking gave the shoes their onomatopoeic name.
  • From the 1950s they introduced thinner heels that didn’t snap and steel rods were used for stiletto heels.

The shoe collection of a girl who has no shoes

Inspired by the shoe exhibition, I dived into my wardrobe to take a look at my own shoes. As I said earlier I don’t have any special interest in shoes and I alternate between two pairs on a daily basis. I was convinced I only had about four more pairs of shoes, but apparently also I have fallen for the shoe trap in the past… After winter I will make more of an effort to wear them, after some practice!

WARNING FOR BOYS: THE FOLLOWING PHOTOS MAY BE DISTURBING TO YOU

BATA M90/M400 military boots

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These are the oldest shoes in my collection. I bought them around 1995 when I really got into metal music. These shoes were obligatory items and the finishing touch for a credible hard rocker’s outfit. They served me well in the days that I was tough enough to join mosh pits and go crowdsurfing. Nowadays they come in handy when moving heavy furniture and I don’t have to worry of smashing my delicate toes 😉

Blowfish boots

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I discovered this brand two years ago and I’ve been wearing these boots almost daily since then, hence their worn-out appearance. I like them because they have practical zippers on the inside while the buckle and wrinkled outside look very unusual. The ideal thing is that they match almost every outfit (at least in my humble opinion as a fashion nitwit).

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Wearing my Blowfish boots and H&M dress in Sydney
Clarks

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This my most comfortable pair of heels and I absolutely love them! I bought them about 2.5 years ago and decided later to wear them on my wedding day.

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Wearing my Clarks shoes on my wedding day. Here we are in the midst of our opening dance 🙂 (Photo by Matt Tyler Photography)
PUMA and Onitsuka Tiger

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I always had some reservations towards sneakers with wedge heels, but these PUMA trainers (left) are super comfy. I got them as a nice birthday present while on holiday in New York, sweet!

The Onitsuka Tiger trainers on the right (note the one leaning against the wall in a nonchalant fashion) are absolutely worn and very uncomfortable (they even give me a headache when I walk in them now), but they are my Kill Bill shoes so I can’t get rid of them.

Bullboxer and E1

The Bullboxer ankle boots (on the left) must be my most lady-like shoes I’ve ever had! After trying them on in the shop, I’ve never worn them again. They look great, but I need to learn to walk in them. I’ll make that my mission for this year!

The E1 ankle boots on the right are cool cowboy boots, but the suede damages rather badly as you can see in the photo. I wear them over skinny blue jeans, which is a typical Dutch look according to the hubby.

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All aboard!
Flamenco shoes: Begoña Cervera

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I’ve been dancing flamenco for years now and have had classes in Tilburg (Netherlands), Den Bosch (Netherlands), Sevilla (Spain) and now in London. This may sound like I’m really good it, but that’s not the case (yet!). I’m now taking lessons from one of London’s top dancers and a class with him is the equivalent of a bootcamp class so hopefully my level will improve soon. And if not, I will be at least in fit shape comes summer 😀

I bought these shoes in Malaga (Spain) last year. Note the nails in the heel and under the toes. These help the dancer to create powerful percussion with the feet.

Glerups

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Glerups slippers are an absolute must for delicate, freezing lady feet in winter! This Danish slipper manufacturer makes warm indoor shoes from wool and felt. They aren’t cheap, but they are worth it. The people who make them are really nice too and very responsive in case of questions or problems.

More Clarks

I bought the pair on the left at the same time of my other Clarks heels, but they aren’t as comfy as the other ones. The pair on the right are from last season and are stylish flat shoes that look really smart with skinny jeans.

More Blowfish

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Because my other pair of Blowfish boots are quite worn out by now, I bought these new pairs a few months ago. The ones on the left resemble the old pair while the ones on the right are like cool biker boots. The noses on both pairs are quite narrow which cause blisters on my feet though 😦

Fly London and United Nude

Finally some shoes I almost forgot I had actually and have hardly worn since I bought them. They pair on the left are very comfortable and cute Fly London heels.

On the right you see my United Nude heels. I really love this brand, but can barely walk in these shoes. I realise these are my only colourful shoes so perhaps ever more reason to start taking them out.

So far the shoe collection of the girl who has no shoes 😉

For an even more collection you should certainly visit the exhibition at the V&A while you can. Remember, it’s on till 31 January 2016!

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