Like so many life-long loves and obsessions, mine started in high school. I was fourteen and had just moved from Austin, Texas, to a boarding school in New England. Austin to Boston was a shock (what are these accents? What's field hockey? Who is John Mayer?), but it was something else that dumbfounded me as I moved into my dorm.
As the other girls unpacked, I saw shoes unlike any I'd seen before—up until that point I thought you only needed three pairs: one pair for school, a pair of sneakers, and maybe something fancy to wear to dinner with your grandparents. It just hadn't occurred to me that a girl could have multiple options for each occasion—and then it seemed I might need options for occassions I didn't even know about yet.
The girl from North Carolina who would become my best friend had a pair of avocado-colored John Fluevog heels that looked like something out of a Tim Burton movie, and some tall purple shearling boots, among five or ten other pairs. Another very fancy new-friend-to-be had packed a pair of bejeweled Dolce & Gabbana slingbacks, and some Chloé clogs. As my first foray into seeing designer goods in person, I was enchanted—more intrigued than jealous, I couldn't believe this luxury was someone's reality.
"I had landed on a planet made entirely out of sandals, oxfords, heels, and boots, populated exclusively by new friends, and I couldn't get enough."
Once I'd saved enough, that North Carolina girl and I rode the T into town and I bought my very own pair of Fluevogs (Google them, if they don't ring a bell) which, in hindsight, I can see were a gateway drug to bunions and overdraft fees. I wore that pair of bright orange, pointy toe, kitten heel slingbacks (made of taffeta and covered in white polka dots, naturally) all through the school year, even during a Boston winter.
Every day I'd come back with my feet nearly numb, and almost always soaking wet, but I didn't care. I felt grown up and cool for one of the first times in my life. There was something thrilling about wearing something that's strictly beautiful, and barely functional—it felt frivolous, but somehow also practical at the same time. Everyone needs shoes, why not wear ones that make you feel great? "You" meaning every part of you except the foot itself, because discomfort goes hand-in-hand with gorgeous footwear.
"There was something thrilling about wearing something that's strictly beautiful, and barely functional."
When I got my first job in fashion, I'd go to the Barney's Warehouse sale each season and spend everything I had on something like Proenza Schouler shagreen sandals with an architectural cutout heel that looked like a skeleton, or mauve suede Prada pumps with purple leopard print appliqués. I'd scour eBay for Marni pumps with green-and-white cutouts that made the front of them look like a monster's face. I'd wear them until the soles wore through and they no longer looked expensive.
The wonderful thing about shoes is that you pretty much always know your size, making online and eBay purchases (and also draining your bank account) simple. I didn't care if my heels were constantly purple from perpetual blisters, or that my soles ached while I tried to fall asleep, or that more than once I couldn't pay my energy bill and my power would get cut.
At night I mentally spent my paycheck on Chanel boots, Miu Miu ballet flats, imagining all the things we'd do together, the places we'd go together; visions of glitter, neon laces, and lucite heels danced in my head. By day, I actually spent my paycheck—entire paychecks—on shoes so tall and uncomfortable I couldn't walk in them. It was a problem.
"At night I mentally spent my paycheck on Chanel boots, Miu Miu ballet flats, imagining all the things we'd do together"
Cut to I won't say how many years later, after two half marathons, a full marathon, and years of wearing absurd and uncomfortable shoes (I actually lost feeling in the second toe of my left foot for over a year from nerve damage), and I have finally stopped wearing showstopper heels. I think it might have something to do with mellowing out over time, and becoming generally more responsible, but I'm much more interested in wearing flats lately. I'll take my Gucci loafers over those silver, hologrammed Asos stilettos, or my Givenchy platform booties any morning.
But, that doesn't mean I don't still haunt the shoe floor at Bergdorf Goodman, or dwell for unseemly lengths of time on yoox.com for deals on the kinds of shoes that would make most women's toes curl in horror. Even today, impractical shoes give me the same feelings as seeing a new Barbie doll in her perfect, pink box—I know I shouldn't want it, but dammit, I do (I'm still waiting to grow out of Barbie). At the moment, my impossibly beautiful and impossibly expensive obsession has been shelved (pun intended). But as I've settled into a daily uniform of cropped flared jeans, and white sweaters and flats, I have made sure my practical flats are as fabulous as they can be. And if you ever come over, I'd be more than happy to show you my vast collection of impractical shoes.