Monday, October 02, 2006

Learning to Walk

Of the various guest judges on season 3 of “Project Runway,” some choices have been inspired—Michael Kors’ perma-tanned mom (!)—and some have been curious— the Wall Street Journal’s fashion reporter. Yes, because when I’m looking for the latest word on fashion, I turn to a publication that doesn’t even print photos.

I can’t recall which episode featured Diane von Furstenberg—former princess, creator of the wrap dress and friend of Andy Warhol—or a single quotable bon mot dropped during her bull session with Heidi and Nina. But if there’s anyone qualified to offer her two cents on fabulousness, von Furstenberg is it.

Currently enjoying something of a comeback, von Furstenberg was given The New Yorker profile treatment in the magazine’s recent Style Issue. The article ran for 11 pages. I learned that DVF talks to her children five times a day. (Writer Larissa MacFarquhar—god, I wish my last name was MacFarquhar—does not mention whether DVF initiates each conversation or whether the obsessive attachment is reciprocal). That DVF’s mother was imprisoned in a concentration camp during WWII. That DVF doesn’t actually design her clothing line, but functions largely as her minion’s muse. And perhaps most importantly, I discovered that DVF hates kitten heels. And wedges.

Oh dear. I feel DVF is judging me and I have been found wanting.

I not only wear kitten heels and wedges, but a third style DVF doesn’t even deign to acknowledge, best described as “chunky.” I wear them because I’m 5’1” and while I need the boost to get partway to average height, I have a problem with stilettos and just plain “high heels.” I cannot walk in them. Never could. It’s one of the great disappointments in my life, right up there with the fact that I look horrible in black. I know, everyone supposedly looks good in black. But I don’t. DVF is very, very disappointed in me.

I would love to win her approval. In these post-Sex in the City years, heels are basically what separates the haves, as in has a clue about fashion, from the have nots. They’ve all but become a requirement of womanhood, that and a really large hobo bag, preferably stuffed with chocolate. But every time I slip on a pair of pumps or strappy sandals, my ankles start to shimmy, a reminder that I’ve sprained them both at least once, and my left foot starts to throb, a reminder that I’ve broken nearly every of its toes—only two of them still bend, which shifts undue pressure onto the ball and shoots pain up my shin. Much as I want to curry DVF’s favor, I’m also sort of attached to maintaining the ability to walk. So I compromise with the kitten and the wedge.

Just when I had all but given up hope, the October issue of InStyle arrived in the mail. There, on page 371, was the tutorial of my dreams: “How to Walk in High Heels.” Its mere existence offered comfort—clearly I am not alone in my fear of heights.

The instructions were as follows:

Step 1: Heels pitch weight forward, so for balance, keep your head up and shoulders back. Tightening your core [hello, you should already be doing Pilates] will offset some of the pressure on your feet.
Step 2: Striding in a normal heel-to-toe motion can snap a stiletto or twist an ankle. Instead take short steps, going down evenly on the ball of the foot and heel.
Step 3: As your weight shifts fully onto a foot, spread your toes in the shoe slightly; this will help to distribute the weight onto the ball of the foot.
Step 4: When you’re feeling off-balance, you tend to stiffen up. For an easy, attractive momentum, let your hips swing in small, sideways, figure-eight motions.

Well, I can see how this might work for the red carpet, when a person isn’t in any particular rush and only has to take a few short steps—going down evenly on the ball of the foot and heel—before they duck into a darkened theater and put on their flip flops. I can’t see how it applies to say walking a mile to a train station (and if you think wearing a pair of Reeboks on the way to work won’t earn DVF’s withering stare, think again). Anticipating this conundrum, InStyle offered strengthening exercises for ankles, calves/Achilles tendons, toes and arches to withstand the unnatural slope of stilettos, because, the experts concede, walking or standing on these things all day can damage feet and lower leg muscles. And if those calf raises don’t work, there are a number of heel inserts and foot gels to soothe aching feet “after a day of being pounded and squeezed.”

Oh, DVF, I really wanted to make you proud. But now I can only say, “Screw you. I’m sticking with the wedge.”


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