When it comes to the world of fashion, I am not and never will be a follower. At one time I got by with just three outfits relishing the sense of liberation that this brought. At another impecunious stage of my life I wore the same dress at each of eleven social events. It was long, dark blue, heavy silk. I delighted in the economy of the exercise.
I regard having lots of clothes as a burden and constantly seek ways to minimise my wardrobe. My daughter-in-law tells me that I am not a ‘normal’ woman as I loathe shopping and she says that when I do actually buy something, I do so much too quickly.
What I had not realised until researching this story, was the number of highly successful people who, by choice, wear the same outfit daily.
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook (greyTshirt). Steve Jobs, co founder of Apple (black turtleneck and blue jeans). Albert Einstein ( grey suit and no socks ). Barack Obama,( grey or blue suit). Johnny Cash, singer ( black)Tom Wolfe, author (a white suit ). Grace Coddington, American Vogue and Michael Kors, fashion designer ( black). Karl Lagerfeld designer and Simon Cowell, TV personality (black jacket, with white shirt). To be included in this illustrious group appeals enormously, though I am not sure that I would choose to wear black for ever.
Another element of sartorial attire that bemuses me are shoes. The passion they arouse defies description. Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Phillipines for twenty years, set the bar. She is famously quoted as saying “I never had 3,000 pairs of shoes, only 1,060”. A recent survey found that the average woman has 22 pairs, including at least seven that are unworn. I also discovered that one in five women admit to feeling more excited by a new pair of shoes than by their sexual partners. I wonder what criteria was used for measuring satisfaction in this research project – or indeed what it proved.
Stuart Weitzman stilettos
Shoes can also be considered as investments. Stuart Weitzman produced diamond studded stilettos priced up to $2m, but the most expensive is a recreation of the red slippers from the film Wizard of Oz, by jeweller Harry Winston for a modest $3m.
Red slippers by Harry Winston)
The original shoes from the film – several pairs were made – are in major collections including the Smithsonian. One pair, however, was stolen and was missing for ten years. In 2015 a reward of $1m was offered by a group of ‘anonymous’ donors including Steven Spielberg and Leonardo di Caprio. The shoes were returned. It is estimated that these are now worth $3m –
Dorothy’s shoes from Wizard of Oz. Estimated 2,300 sequins on each shoe.
–not bad for memorabilia from a film where both music and lyrics were written by Jewish boys, Harold Arlen ( his father was a cantor) and Yip Harburg ( born Isidore Hochberg.)Few people realise how deeply embedded this song is in the Jewish psyche. Listen to the words. “ Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high there’s a land that I heard of….” Ten years after the film was produced the State of Israel was re-born – fulfilling the words of the song “ the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. Until recently I knew nothing of the song’s hidden meaning, but clearly remember singing it with my mother when I was small.
Another phenomenon is that of shoe fetishism where women’s footwear arouses sexual passion in certain men. The shoes become symbols of feminine power and, apparently, a male craving for being dominated. Interestingly, to my knowledge women have not as yet become similarly aroused at the sight of mens’ brogues, loafers or trainers.
The history of footwear is fascinating. Leather tanning began in the Neolithic period 7,000 years ago and was a well-practised skill by the time of the early Israelites. Several references to shoes appear in the Bible. The Song of Songs 7:2 says ‘How beautiful are thy feet in sandals” – appropriate in Israel where sandals are de rigeur for men and women for at least eight months of the year. Or in the Talmud ( Shabbat 129a) ‘A man should sell the roof beams of his house to buy shoes for his feet’.
But how to wear ones shoes is not straightforward. The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) states that you should always put the right shoe on first, but that the laces of the left shoe should be tied first. When taking them off, however, you must remove the left shoe before the right one – the right foot must not be uncovered whilst the left is covered. If you happen to be left handed, as I am, then the whole procedure is reversed. Got it??? I re-read the various explanations as to why one should do this, but frankly could not even begin to comprehend the message. What I have decided, however, is simply to wear slip-ons – which I assume obviates the need for the aforementioned ritual.
Another Jewish custom involving shoes – ‘Halitzah’ – dates back to Deuteronomy 25:5-9 If a married man dies childless, and has an unmarried brother, his brother is obliged to marry the widow. This ‘levirate marriage’ ensured the lineage of the deceased man through an ‘in house’ marriage and the prospect of children to carry on his name.
This practice was abolished by the Rabbis centuries ago in order to prevent a woman having to marry someone whom she may not have liked. Despite this the ritual still takes place today before a five man rabbinical court. The brother-in-law wears a ‘halitzah’ shoe on his right foot. Made from the skin of a kosher animal, it comprises two sections joined with leather threads, similar to a moccasin with straps.
The widow declares that her brother-in-law refuses to marry her. She places her left hand on his calf, undoes the laces with her right hand, removes the shoe from his foot, throws it to the ground, and spits on the earth in front of him. The Beth Din then releases him from his obligation, thus permitting the widow to remarry whomsoever she chooses.
Curiously shoes can be seen as either good luck or a bad omen depending on where you live. In Afghanistan and several eastern countries, one must never sit opposite someone and show the soles of your shoes. This is hugely offensive. Anger is also expressed by throwing a shoe at someone. This grave insult, called ‘shoeing’, has been hurled against several leading politicians, including President George W Bush at a 2008 press conference in Baghdad.
In 2009 the White House issued a photo showing President Obama talking on the phone to Israel Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. The President had his feet up on his desk, his fist clenched and a severe expression on his face. Several Israelis complained, as whilst making phone calls to other world leaders Obama was always seen at his desk with his feet firmly placed on the floor. Make of it what you will.
In contrast, throwing shoes is widely regarded as a sign of good fortune in western countries. Even today shoes are tied to a wedding car for luck. Another custom, less well known, is for the bride’s father to give the groom a pair of her shoes to symbolise the passing of responsibility for his daughter to her husband. This notion, the wife as chattel, is undoubtably unacceptable in today’s politically correct societies, as is the lesser-known custom for a groom to tap his bride on the forehead with one of her shoes to show his dominance. The custom of the bride throwing a bouquet to her guests derives from the original tradition which involved throwing one of her shoes.
The last word on shoes however goes to Charles, my Editor in Chief. Many years ago he was acting for a client who was buying a major shoe company. Part of the deal included archival drawings of shoe designs from years past. When Charles questioned their relevance, his client replied that fashion always ‘goes around and comes around’ so they were important to acquire. To which Charles, in his inimitable fashion replied
“Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” ( shoes)