An illuminating study of the history of women's shoes in the 20th century.
In her debut, Bergstein examines the fascinating and surprisingly complex relationship between women and their shoes—"the average woman owns upward of ten, twenty, fifty pairs of shoes, some of which have very little practical use and languish in the back of the closet until just the right occasion arises." Bergstein traces the origins of this modern-day mania to Salvatore Ferragamo, who, by the 1930s, had “put Italy on the footwear map” by becoming shoemaker to Hollywood stars like Carmen Miranda and Lana Turner. Ordinary women who were used to more mundane styles suddenly became aware of the allure and erotic potential of a pair of beautiful, well-crafted shoes. After the privations of World War II, the fashion industry emphasized abundance through a greater diversity of styles, including stilettos, which “were meant to be decadent, not useful.” As haute couture fell out of favor in the ’60s, popular designers like Mary Quant made the footwear-buying public aware of new possibilities that included shoes and boots made of disposable materials like Corfam and vinyl. “[F]antasy and self indulgence” became the watchwords of the ’70s, when women and men took to the streets and discotheques in gender-bending platform shoes. The gains that feminism made for women during this decade eventually translated into a desire for high-end footwear by such contemporary designers as Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin. Bergstein concludes by suggesting that greater social and economic mobility among women has ultimately created “the age of great variety, when shoes are as diverse as the women who wear them.” Like Dorothy's ruby red slippers, modern shoes are a way for women to express their hopes and dreams, but without “question, fear or apology.”