Some Thoughts on Footwear and Elegance

In Genevieve Antoine Dariaux’s indispensable tome to style, A Guide to Elegance: For Every Woman Who Wants to Be Well and Properly Dressed on all Occasions, she sets out extremely strict rules regarding footwear. Please allow me to summarise:

heels higher than 2 or 2 1/2 inches are “extremely vulgar” and high heels worn with trousers “can reduce to vulgarity the most refined appearance”;

open-toed shoes are an absolute no-no, as some brute will undoubtedly step on your toes and if it rains your feet will be soaked (how terribly distasteful);

wedge heels are generally in “bad taste” and will result in an “awkward gait and a heavy leg”;

ankle straps are “unflattering and rather cheap looking”;

shoes that have “exaggeratedly pointed toes” and adornments “that attract too much attention” should be avoided;

ballerinas (the style of shoe, not the dancers) must “never be seen on a city street…for they create an impression of negligence”; and

bright coloured shoes should only be “worn in the evening under electric lights.”

Perusing Dariaux’s tips I was struck by two things: the use of the word “vulgar” (as far as I can ascertain “vulgar” has dropped out of contemporary parlance and has been replaced by inferior sentiments – personally, I feel it should be wholeheartedly resurrected) and the large discrepancy between ideas of elegance enshrined in the 1960s and those held today.

Looking at the styles that are currently being produced by high-end designers, I can’t help but think that poor Genevieve will be turning in her grave. In a season where 1970s-inspired cork and wood wedges have made a comeback, tall and spindly heels are de rigueur, Marc Jacobs continues to design shoes that look like cute animals, colour palettes are out of control and masculine brogues are all the fashion, archaic concepts of elegance have been well and truly thrown out the window. Indeed, I happen to think that ankle straps can be very sophisticated (provided that the wearer does not have cankles) and brightly coloured shoes are always appropriate (except at funerals).

So are poise, style and grace mutable ideas that change from season to season or are they fixed concepts? What gets placed in the trash: Dariaux’s book or my ballerina flats with *shudder* ankle straps? Whatever your opinion, I guess elegance ain’t what it used to be.

The featured styles include Christian Louboutin Corto 85 leather pumps, Chlo√© Ankle strap canvas ballerina flats, Paloma Barcel√≥ Dalila flat espadrille sandals, Marni Square-toe leather pumps, Marc by Marc Jacobs Mouse leather ballerina flats and Church’s Blondie leather brogues. Yeah – don’t worry – I can’t afford them either.


June 29, 2010