Shoe obsession is not a new phenomenon, but it has heightened in recent years, as extraordinary designer shoes with extremely high heels have become increasingly central to fashion.
Why are we so obsessed with shoes? And why are shoes so important now?
Our obsession with shoes is “over-determined” (as psychiatrists would say), because the cultural significance of shoes is so multi-faceted. An intimate extension of the body, shoes convey a wealth of information about an individual’s sexuality, social status, and aesthetic sensibility. High heels, in particular, seem to embody our complex feelings about sexuality, gender, and power. Feminists have traditionally regarded high heels as profoundly disempowering and sexually fetishistic. Yet because high-heeled shoes are today the prime sartorial symbol of femininity, they continue to appeal to many women and men. However, some of the most significant reasons for our current shoe obsession have less to do with psycho-sexual symbolism than with developments within the world of fashion.
A decade ago, Carrie Bradshaw declared “a woman’s right to shoes.” Since then, accessories have become the main fashion story, and shoes have overtaken “It” bags as the most fashionable accessory. As the “great designer shoe wars” have escalated, shoe departments everywhere have expanded, and a new generation of shoe designers shares floor space with perennial best sellers like Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin. Today, the average American woman has twenty pairs of shoes—nearly double what she owned in the late 1990s. Heel heights have also risen dramatically, from three or four inches to five or six—and up. Extreme heels are, of course, related to the platform habit of the last decade, but even single-sole shoes often have very high heels.
Shoe Obsession features over 150 of the most exciting shoe styles of the 21st century, emphasizing a range of designers and collectors, who are positioning shoes at the height of fashion.
Valerie Steele, director and chief curator
Colleen Hill, associate curator of accessories
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Shoe Obsession by Valerie Steele and Colleen Hill, Yale University Press, 2013.