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Friday Takeaway: 12 bucks, a stiletto and a story

  • Naomi Shulman. SARAH CROSBY/GAZETTE STAFF


Thursday, October 05, 2017

There they were, hidden in plain sight on the bottom of the shoe rack at the Hospice Shop in Northampton, one of my favorite local thrift stores. They were silver-metallic-leather ankle boots with four-inch stiletto heels. The soles were bright, cherry red — a tip off that these were an especially expensive brand. I turned one over. I was right: These were from Christian Louboutin, a French designer famous for his extremely expensive (and extremely high-heeled) footwear. They probably retailed for at least $600, I figured. I looked at the insole. The shoes were my size. And the sticker said $12.00. 

Reader, I bought them. 

The fact that they fit did not mean I could actually wear them. Louboutin is known for a few choice quotes, including: “Shoes are just a pedestal. What interests me is the power of the woman wearing them.” Sounds empowering, but the pedestal of these particular shoes was so high and unstable that I could only limp around in them for a few minutes before taking them off and rubbing my arches. Nonetheless, I bought them. Because what kind of bargain-hunter would I be to pass up a 99% markdown?

A friend of mine insists that shoes like these — so high and pointy they bring to mind femme-fatale caricatures — are like a costume to be worn a couple times a year for effect. A couple times a year would be pushing it for me. I have worn these shoes once, so far, to an event where I knew I would be sitting. Mostly, the shoes remain in my closet, out of place among all my Old Navy and Target duds, perched regally next to flip-flops and clogs, waiting for the next outing. 

I find myself wondering about their backstory. How did they end up at the Hospice Shop? I paid next to nothing for them, but presumably someone bought these new. Does that person live here in the Valley? I don’t think you can purchase a shoe like this downtown. Did the original owner go hunting for these heels in Boston or New York City? Or — this strikes me as more likely — did she move here from the city, take one look at the proliferation of cork-soled sandals, and decide her Louboutins probably wouldn’t be needed here? Did this person have trouble walking in them, as I do? Or did she have a collection of towering stilettos, enough to wear a different pair every day, so many that she decided to cast off a pair?

I’ve thought about trying to wear the Louboutins in town as a kind of social experiment. There are neighborhoods in Manhattan where these shoes wouldn’t raise any eyebrows — with a little extra attitude, I could pull off my best Carrie Bradshaw imitation — but here they’d make an impression. Or so I imagine. I’m not kidding; I genuinely can’t wear them long enough, or walk far enough in them, to find out firsthand. 

It’s OK. The impression these shoes are meant to make isn’t necessarily the one I want, anyway. Louboutin may have talked a good game about women’s power, but he also said, “The core of my work is dedicated not to pleasing women, but pleasing men.” Judging from how hobbled I feel when I wear these stilettos, and how my feet feel when I (finally!) remove them after a ten-minute wearing, I’d agree that he definitely isn’t trying to please me. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life learning to stand tall on my own two feet. Now that I’ve gotten some practice doing that, I’m not about to let a pair of shoes take me down. 

But I’m keeping these. One never knows when one will attend an event that’s mostly seated. I don’t need a pedestal, but I am a sucker for a good mystery. Even if I never wear these shoes again, the riddle of their provenance was worth the 12 bucks. And on a more recent visit to the Hospice Shop, I picked up a pair of clogs. 

Naomi Shulman's work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times,  The Washington Post, and Yankee Magazine, as well as on NEPR and WBUR. Follow her on Twitter: @naomishulman.