I have a confession to make. I absolutely love brilliantly colored boots and shoes specifically those in red. I am not sure when my love of red shoes began although it must have been when I was young. During my childhood, I never saw shoes that were not the traditional black or brown, although white patent leather shoes were allowed for special occasions like Easter. In fact, I never saw anyone wearing shoes of color until Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. And then, of course, those were magic shoes so you would never find those in the local shoe store.
I think my love of wearing color really came to fruition after I left home and moved to the big city of Toronto in the early 1970s. Although all of those vast, beautiful, glossy and expensive department stores held clothes of many jeweled colors, as a struggling student, my main shopping destination was second-hand stores. There was a wealth of color and styles there but sadly no shoes or boots that were not black, brown or white. Yet shoes (and boots) of color were making appearances on rock stars like David Bowie and Elton John. Of course, they were considered flamboyant and surreal so they could do what they wanted. But nice young Italian girls were supposed to be more modest than that. Or so was the message I had been given.
It wasn’t until I hit Los Angeles in the 1980s that my dream of wearing colored shoes became a reality. It started with an absolutely gorgeous pair of purple cowboy boots. I loved those boots and wore them everywhere. Of course, they were way beyond my budget so wearing them everywhere was a reminder of the sacrifice I had made and that I had better enjoy them to the fullest. But I also felt incredibly chic and modern. And even when the purple on those boots started to fade and rub, I had them dyed blue. But my eyes were continuously drawn to red shoes.
What is it about the color red? Certainly it is eye-catching but it also makes a statement. It says the person wearing red is bold, daring, fun to be with, a risk-taker, sexy, and a trendsetter. I wasn’t really thinking about all that, though. I just loved the red shoes. Yet reactions to wearing my red shoes, and my purple boots as well, were mixed. It was interesting the amount of disapproving glances came my way when I was feeling fine in my dyed leather-wrapped feet. And it made me realize how skewed it was to judge a person by appearances. Supposedly, some perceived that my red shoes or purple boots indicated I was a loose woman and could be treated as such. Unfortunately, for them, they learned otherwise.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is an English idiom that’s been around for a century or more. George Eliot first used the phrase in 1860 in one of her novels and it appears again in a 1986 murder mystery novel by Edwin Rolfe and Lester Fuller (Wikipedia). The metaphorical phrase means a person should not judge another person’s character or worth by outer appearances. Yet in so many circumstances that’s exactly what happens. Since childhood, I have been warned of the dangers of bad first impressions when applying for jobs or meeting new people. And apparently wearing shoes and boots of color, specifically red, made me a very racy book cover indeed.
However, judging by appearances is sadly an all too common human trait. It’s easy to look at a person and assume we know what their story is. The reality is none of us really know another person’s full story. We may think we do based on their clothes or their demeanor or the car they drive or the place they live but while those may be reflections of a person’s inner desires or hopes or fears, it truly doesn’t reflect who they really might be.
Since I have grown and long after her passing, I learned that my grandmother was also a lover of red shoes which, in her day even more then mine, marked her as a woman of low morals. The story goes that she went back to visit her family in Italy after she had become widowed but shocked the town by wearing a red sweater and red shoes. The belief was that good Italian, Catholic widows only wore black so Grandma was, in my mind, a real maverick to live out her own story. I always wish I had known that about her when she was alive. I feel like she was a kindred spirit.
There’s a wonderful poem written by Jenny Joseph called “Warning”, where she states when she is old she will wear Purple and a red hat that doesn’t go but who cares that it doesn’t? I love that but I wonder why women have to wait until we are old to wear such brilliant colors. Does being old make women safe and eccentric and therefore their colored clothes and shoes can be chuckled away? I decided long ago not to wait until I’m old to wear my red shoes despite what impression I might make. Besides, like Dorothy, how would I ever find my way home?