The shoe whisperer

In Shoes on December 3, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I find it quite encouraging that at my very great age I’m still having blinding flashes of illumination with regard to shoes.

The latest was re-learning the idea that new shoes need to be worn in, rather as you run in the engine of a new car. This is something I had entirely forgotten over the great stretch of time since the early 1980s when trainers first started to be worn as acceptable daywear, and not just for sporting purposes.

Be they the bright white Reeboks of the early trainer era (sing-a-long with me: I’m working nine to five….), the cool All Stars currently widely adopted, or the mid-period Prada Sport trainer/shoe mutant, the collective effect has been to make us all rather lazy about shoes. We expect them to be instantly comfortable. The footwear equivalent of microwave popcorn.

This has led directly to the great rise in uptake of the ‘comfort shoe’ even among people who should know better. People like me. I confess there have been days when I have actually left the house in my cork-soled felt-topped hobbit clogs, too challenged by the prospect of putting on anything more demanding. I might as well have strolled down the street wearing a Slanket (aka as a ‘Snuggie’, either way it’s a fleece blanket with sleeves).

So I’ve decided that apart from Converse for strictly casual outings, any shoe that you can wear right out of the shop and on until morning, is not one you should be happy to be seen sporting in public.

What brought me to this renewed understanding is the current wonder crop of fabulous shoes on sale in London. It’s one of those rare seasons where there is an almost bewildering plethora of relatively walkable shoes, smart enough to be worn to a business lunch, on offer.

Working on the principle that you have to get them while you can, I’ve snapped up wedge desert boots, brogues with a chunky mid-height heel, silk-tasselled black velvet smoking slippers and black patent loafers. I’m wearing the loafers right now as part of my programme to break them in at home, before setting off on a real life mission in them.

Because now I remember that was what you had to do before the trainer revolution made us all so lazy. You had to break in a new pair of shoes like a horse. So I’m rediscovering the lost art of shoe whispering.

You start off wearing them round the house with really thick socks, until the leather starts to give, the toe starts to bend and the whole thing begins to mould to your foot. At the same time, you are also getting your foot used to the shoe. These ones are a bit rubby on the heel, so both shoe and skin need to adapt, one to soften, the other to callus over.

Only once those processes are well started, should you risk the first short outings in your new proper shoes, and then eventually, after a few trips to the corner shop, they will finally be ready to spend a whole day with you.

It might seem like a lot of bother, when you’re used to instant comfort footwear, but when I look in my closet, the things that have given me the most back over the years – the cowboy boots, the brogues, the riding boots – have all involved this process.

I’ve also realised that several pairs of shoes I had written off as major shopping errors actually just need a bit of effort to beat them into submission. This has to be good news.

So re-embrace a more rigorous era of footwear and remember – comfort shoes are the Slankets of footwear. Wear them wisely.

Mid-heel brogues and patent loafers from Office. Smoking slippers from House of Bruar. Slanket from hell.

  1. lol, lol, lol, lol, lol, …”slanket from hell”

  2. It’s not a good reflection on my current show collection, but I just realised that I too had forgotten about breaking shoes in. It’s made me a bit sad to think I haven’t needed to. For someone who really loves shoes, mine are all really comfortable. (shudder)

    Will you indulge me maggie and let me share my style tips with you. You’re probably cringing at the thought, but anyway:


  3. Did you somehow reach into my mind this week? I had a similar moment during the week – and actually posted a Facebook status saying ‘Why are the prettiest shoes the most uncomfortable?’

    This was typed as I was wearing my dressing gown, a pair of thick white sports socks, and the gorgeous red patent leather sandals that I got no wear out of last year! I decided that they were too pretty to give up on, even if they did cut my toes to pieces, so am wearing them in! Just as you suggest.

    Shows me just once again why you’re a ‘must read’ in my life!

    Have a great weekend!

    • Thank youxxxxxxxx (tell all your friends! – it’s freaking me that I am reaching so few people compared to what I used to each Saturday) x

      • Don’t worry – in the words of a famous American – If you build it, they will come.

        If I could offer one word of (completely unsolicited, I know) advice, it would be that in this media you need to give people a reason to keep coming back…the more often the better. So perhaps a pretty-much-weekly blog is ok for now as you sort out ‘brand Maggie’ online and work towards the website you mentioned; but to really drive traffic, you’ll need more.

        I’d pop by almost every day (as I do to Mamamia and GWAS) if I knew there’d be something new to see/read. And I found those websites by word of mouth, and I’ve sent them on to others. It seems to take time to build up, but once it does, it explodes!

        Just my thoughts, and seriously don’t want to tell you how to suck eggs, although I appear to have done so!

      • Hi Mich – thanks so much for those verrrry helpful words. Maybe I am limiting myself by keeping this as an online version of the Saturday column. Good call. I will mull this weekend!

      • I have also been ‘mulling’ – (I know I am being presumptuous, and I hope you will forgive me, but it’s just that I’ve loved your commentaries ‘Style’ for so long, that I really want you to succeed.)

        You wouldn’t need (or want) to do a full column every day – that would spoil us, and be almost impossible to maintain. But you could think about giving us snippets of Style – like links to other blogs/websites you’ve seen with a paragraph or two on your own thoughts. (eg: a particularly interesting The Sartorialist pic or similar). I know that with all your experience you’d have some marvelous take it, and it would be a reason for people to visit more often.

        Or pulling out some of your old columns (as you have been) but giving them an almost ‘where are they now’ feel.

        Then you can use Twitter to drive people here more often.

        Ok – that’s enough from the amateur, I am sure you have many media savvy contacts who can give you much better advice than me!

        But good luck – I’ll be supporting you, and drumming up as much as I can as well.

  4. Almost spat my coffee over the keyboeard with your “slanket from Hell”comment…spot on as usual x

  5. Love it as usual;) to my shame I’ve never don’t this but adore my heels and often have v sore feet ! Q I can’t afford for various reasons to buy many shoes, should I just get one really good pair?

  6. If I was brave, I would post a photo of me wearing fave grey track pants, very old beige, chunky knit sweater (complete with holes), and fabulous, red suede shoes with rather significant heel height (well, for me anyway)…but I would not want to put your fledgling online readership off, so I will spare you. Yes, wearing-in shoes is a must, and, as indicated above, I quite like the juxtoposition of styles that you can allow yourself during the “wearing in” process – combos that would normally never see the light of day (like a slanket!). Another good Saturday read Maggie – thank you

  7. I remember having to squash my hot little summer feet into new school shoes at the end of every January holidays to break them in before school term started. Seemed terribly unfair, but somehow the lesson stayed with me and I do wear new shoes at home before venturing out – especially if they have a heel. Although these days if they’re not haviana -flat, they have a heel!

  8. Love the blog Maggie.

    Have to think that the shoe salespersons’ role in life is to encourage the inner shoe whisper in us ie reject any thoughts of any customer discomfort, smile and say “they will stretch”. Theres got to be an extensive module in shoe sales school on that one – ” look away from a squashed toe, focus on the stitching detail”.

    Funnily enough my Dad used to work in a shoe shop where they took the tightish pairs out the back for a ‘stretch’ – this consisted of turning on an industrial fan with jet engine reverberation for 5 mins. They were always thought to be ‘much better’ on the second fitting…. thats the power of mind over shoe comfort.

    On the matter of where to now ( which is particularly close to home)….keep blogging and you will work it out as you go. Dont feel welded to the Saturday column, there is no deadlines, just the ones you create for yourself. Good to see where it goes but use it as a catalyst as your audience will evolve with you and the potential is huge. You will soon be doing some stuff you never imagined. Think beyond your borders, and what you do really well and generally what is unique about you and there’s bound to be lots of exciting products you have under your wing but take for granted, and while you are doing that sign me up for your next style trip to somewhere interesting…there would be lots of takers.

    • Wow thanks so much for that! That is an AMAZING bit of insider info from dad!!!! Have you got any more?

      Thanks also so much for your very lovely and encouraging comments. Between you and Mich (see below), I am thinking maybe I am restricting myself with this format, but I just wanted to keep the Style Notes thing pure – once a week, the same length as it always was. It works in that format, so i don’t want to change it. My plan is to have another platform where I will do more general stuff and Style Notes to be a weekly feature of it.

      Any thoughts on that?


      • I agree with keeping Style Notes pure and weekly. I have trouble checking in on people like MamaMia every day, I seem to only manage it weekly and feel a bit left out as a result. Reminds me of the old school days (girls school of course) when you just had to go to the loo at lunchtime and, when you came back, you’d missed all the goss. Or worse, panicked that they’d been talking about YOU. Guess that won’t happen to me on MamaMia 😉
        I’m trying to follow you on Twitter – I’m new to it so its taking me a while to get the hang of it.
        Facebook I love, have you thought of a Facebook page? (forgive me if you have one already)
        OK, I’ll get back in my box now

      • Facebook page is a project for the New Year. I had a look and it’s a bit bamboozling. Will have more brain space to get on top of it in Jan. SO glad you like the purity of the once a week post (plus current added weekly archive extra!). That was exactly my intention. I might do another more general thing in the future, but my initial plan is to get this one bedded down. So so so appreciate the helpful feedback. Sorry I wasn’t more use about the pants. x

  9. Loving Style Notes Maggie… husband (aka magazine and newspaper courier) was in Melbourne airport yesterday poised to pinch all the good bits from The Age but I had already read your column here in Auckland. Saturday mornings have improved immensely. Children of course have to get their own breakfast…

  10. I’m not so sure about the ‘should not be seen in public’ – I have terrible feet, duck shaped, flat as a tack, and wide as this brown land, so when I found Munro shoes, straight from the USA, which I could wear with orthotics and not look like I was 357 years old, I was happy. That said, I also found a pair of Roberto Figini beautiful suede & patent pumps (two pairs actually, the red *and* the black) that I could wear right out of the shop & off to the Opera, dinner at L41, a wedding… hugely respectable. The rest of the time though? Spot on. Loving the new column format, too.

    • I didn’t meant to be mean – ‘one’ has to overemphasise these pronouncements for comic effect. It was aimed at people who have a choice and are being lazy about it…. ie ME! xxx ps great buying the RIGHT shoe in both colours. Gold star.

  11. I followed you here from GW (the whise nsme we will not say, which I only bought for your column). And now I find myself tweeting (yes I can’t believe it) just to read your fabulous column. I have complete faith that while I (and many like me) figure out all this new technology, you will figure out how to get the rest of them here. Just keep up your fabulous ?commentary? (is there spell check on this?) and the rest will follow.

    • xxxxx Have you subscribed? That;s all you need to do to have it arriving in your inbox like clockwork every Saturday morning (in Australia time – I’ve set it to that, the rest of the world can work out their own little routines, I’ve got to look after my loyal Aussie pals). Thanks so much xxx AND PLEASE TELL YOUR FRIENDS.

  12. So glad we can still read your column. The Saturday paper is not the same without you. It was the one thing I always looked forward to reading so I am very happy to find you online.

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