The Woman Wears Flats, by Rachel Seville
After James Thurber’s “The Gentleman Is Cold”
A few months ago, I was the recipient of a series of condescending eye rolls when I arrived for a dinner at some important museum or another wearing sneakers with a very swank knit black pantsuit. All of the other guests were in kicky heels that spiked three inches and higher, and there I was: not diminutive but certainly not floating around swan-like. This seemed in an odd way to annoy many of the other female guests. Their looks seemed to imply that a subscription to the tenets of hipsterdom had kept me from properly dressing not only for this occasion, but for life itself. In their eyes, I saw them counting up all the times they had seen me skulking around flat-footed, and using that high number as evidence that I hoped they’d mutter about me behind my back: “There goes Rachel Seville, the eccentric fashion blogger, who doesn’t know which shoes to wear where.”
Of course, this was all terribly misinformed. I have very good reasons for wearing flat shoes, just as I have good reasons for owning a pantsuit. The latter is because it makes me feel like Marlene Dietrich at the end of The Blonde Venus or something, and the former I will explain to you now.
To begin with, I cannot keep that blasted cap on any heel. Whether the heel is $75 or $750, I’m walking–sometimes even strutting, because walking in the things is the least of my problems–feeling cool as cukes, when suddenly, that moronic, microscopic piece of plastic flies off and lands God knows where. Then I’m left walking around whatever party I’m going to with a spike of steel screaming against the floor with every step I take. Imagine Lana Del Rey taking her big witch nails to a chalkboard every time you enter a room, and there you have it: me in heels.
As always, it gets worse. My single pair of heels that have managed to keep it together in the heel cap department are a flashy pair of gold Manolo Blahnik pumps that I bought because they reminded me of Star Wars. I recently walked into the kind of bar one should walk into while wearing a flashy pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps, where I was greeted by a hostess who began immediately to fawn over my shoes as she led me to a table at the very back of the place. “Here is the heels moment which I am always denied,” I thought proudly, as everyone, I was sure, looked at my glorious pumps. And then I fell down.
The third heel incident that’s put me off the stuff for good didn’t even happen to me, but is so mortifying that it seemed to happen at me. Several months ago, I was seated front row at a Woody Allen concert at the Cafe Carlyle, which means something and nothing at the same time, because the place is so jammed that you end up feeling like you’re in bed with everyone in the back row anyway. Near the door, an octogenarian couple was doing their best old glamorous couple impression, the man in a pristine Zegna suit clapping offbeat and the fur-coated woman croaking all the lyrics to songs that weren’t being performed. They slinked from table-to-table with their snouts out for front row seats. Once they’d finally landed next to me, of course, Woody began packing away his clarinet, and in protest, the woman stood up, removed a Louboutin and launched it at Mr. Allen. Her geriatric muscles didn’t permit the thing to go far, however, and it landed somewhere beneath her own table. So she and her husband got on their hands and knees and crawled around the floor of the Cafe Carlyle–which I’m sure, a flashlight would reveal, is caked with a detritus that rivals the floors of late ’70s CBGB–squealing about her shoe and cawing for an encore: “PLAY THE SWEETHEART OF SIGMA CHI!” Then, as Woody descended from the stage and began exiting, the man popped out from below the table, where he was assiduously goosing all the female guests in hot pursuit of anything that wasn’t his wife’s shoe, and exclaimed, “Woody! You have to remember me! I’ve seen all your films.” If you thought age would teach you something about bootlicking, kids, you’re just plum wrong.
Then, of course, there is the simple principle of walking around. As I’ve previously suggested, that wretched, jaunty, jungle cat-reject walk that plagues some women in heels isn’t among my issues. But if you want to walk everywhere, and I want to walk everywhere, you can’t do it in heels, unless you are a superhuman boss donna diva in both the leg and endurance departments. Your posse or paramour will say, “Well, let’s just trot over to a hundred more bars or wander around for thirty years looking for one,” and though you’ll feel like saying, “That sounds like heaven or at least the ceiling,” your throbbing feet will sing a different tune, and you’ll have to hobble until everyone agrees you can take a cab, which is really the height of abasement.
I would never have brought out all these humiliating revelations if I weren’t made to feel so silly in sneakers at dinner parties, or goofy about wearing smoking slippers everyday to the office, or bashful about the splangly Hangisi flats that are inevitably hidden beneath my gown at any black tie party. It’s no mark of eccentricity, but walking dog-like in the midst of elegant giraffes is nothing compared to the idea of ending up at age 85 ruffling beneath a table at the Cafe Carlyle, hunting for an errant pump.