“Nice shoes,” is a complement that men have been advised to give women. It is innocuous enough, so as not to offend. It seems not overtly sexist, until I raise it. It was a complement suggested to Michael Douglas in the movie American President, on his first date with Annette Bening. He put his best foot forward.
Shoes tell a story. They say where have you been. Detectives like to paw over them, looking for telltale clues. Is that red dust ground into the heels from the crime scene? Shabby shoes speak of poverty. New shoes shoutout celebration. Let’s party! Muted shoes speak volumes, but only in a whisper. Requiring one to hold their ear close to the ground to hear the message. Loud shoes draw the eye to a point where there is nowhere else to go but up.
Then there is the seamier side of footwear. Crocs come to mind first. This is a shoe that if worn without socks turns smelly with just one wearing. No amount of Jibbitz charms can camouflage that. Or take chunky sneakers, a fashion faux pas that cries out, “Look how cool I am!” Platform shoes that are the yin to a stiletto’s yang. Finally, there is the cobbler’s bane of the comfortable shoes. Favored by schoolmarms and grandmothers alike. For them the complement nice shoes slaps as sarcasm. They are the very definition of a fashion non-statement designing to trigger the fashionistas.
Footwear can run the gambit from Prada to flip-flops, but they all become equal in that great leveler that can try one’s sole, the TSA security line. Shoes in plastic buckets, unshodden feet, some still covered with socks, others bare for all the world to see (another reason not to wear Crocs). The shuffling crowd inches forward, stifling a primal scream that all want to shout, “We just want out. Help!” Meanwhile, under their ever-watchful gaze, standing two-by-two with hands of blue, agents are silently thinking, “Those stilettos are looking stabby.”