A Fine Pair of Heels: Pleasures large and small

(published as Shoes Glorious Shoes, Herald Sun 15/01/11)


While we are talking about it – because, of course, reading the weekend papers is a pleasure – I’ve been wondering what gives me the greatest pleasure in my life. I grew up in New Zealand, a country with distinct protestant leanings (work hard, don’t have fun), so the whole idea of giving myself pleasure of any kind has taken a long time to take hold, but finally I am getting good at it. Sometimes it’s a just a matter of being mindful of what you enjoy, but sometimes, as in the case of sex, it is more complicated than that. We need shoes so our feet don’t freeze or boil, and I would argue that we need sex too, because our bodies are made for love and intimacy. So why is it that in any rough straw poll among women of all ages, shoes and bags often figure higher on the pleasure scale than sex?

Shoes glorious shoes

Just recently I bought myself a pair of Camper boots. The Spanish brand has always seemed to me to err on the side of sensible, with its flat no-frills heels and lumpy profiles. Even the heels looked unwilling to flatter, as if designed by reluctant nuns. Then I spotted this particular pair of beauties, pale suede, chopped off at the ankle, with a pale wood wedge heel Cuban in shape. Delicious, even a little shameless. Two of the girls in the Campers shop had them on the day I bought mine, and you know that’s a good sign. After all, they are the ones who work with the shoes all day, plenty of time to sort a mild infatuation from a full-blown passion.

Of course they hurt, but I bear the pain because they make me feel fine. I feel elegant, in charge, and sexy in a hard-arse you may want me but you can’t have me kind of way.

My winter flats, in comparison, a much-loved much-worn pair from the New Zealand shoemaker Minnie Cooper, make me feel sharply intelligent, with a cold hard eye. I also have a pair of calf-length brown boots with a pointy toe which ends square, and a mid-sized heel. They are Italian, and they make me feel sophisticated, if a little flirty. How strange, and wonderful, that footwear can so affect our day, and the way we feel about ourselves. And when you look down to find your footing, which happens countless times a day, the pleasure is there once again, right on the end of your feet.

A beautiful pair of shoes can take my breath away, and I can find it incredibly hard to talk myself out of spur-of-the-moment purchases. I’m not someone who can wear them every day as some women can, they do my back in, and I don’t have enough fabulous evening events for the heels I own now. But I absolutely love it that some women wear these skyscrapers to work and then home again, and I think a beautiful shoe makes all women look beautiful. Personally, I cannot understand why thongs and ugg boots have inched their way into street wear. Useful, but ugly, they mar even beautiful women.

My handbag and I

I like to mix it up when it comes to my shoe pleasure, and rarely wear the same pair the following day, but with my handbag I am fiercely loyal. Handbag pleasure is pretty much on the same level as shoe pleasure, but because it is something I use every single day of the year, the pleasure does gradually wane. As a consequence I have decided that my bag needs to be something quite wonderful, so that I don’t mind looking at it continually. The problem with wonderful is that it’s usually outrageously expensive. But I have found the solution in Spencer and Rutherford, a locally made brand. Made with variously coloured or patterned pieces of canvas, leather, vinyl, lace and trim, each bag is different, surprising, and stands out from the crowd. They are also a 1950s, 1960s shape and structure, which I like much better than the saggy bags around now. The prices are mid-range, starting around $300, but I figure for the one accessory that I have with me every day, it’s worth spending a bit to get it right.

My current darling is starting to look bedraggled. I have had her a year, and am just about ready to move on, but when I recently perused the selection at a department store which carries this brand, I couldn’t quite bring myself to ditch her. Loyalty you see. There’s no room for two bags in this woman’s life.

Other pleasures

My married friend observed to me recently that ask any married woman if she would rather have sex with her husband, or get a new pair of shoes, she knew what the answer would be. I was not totally surprised. In a newish relationship and not married, I have no experience of what it is like to have the same sexual partner for many years. But I do know from mine and others experience that many of us struggle to achieve the levels of sexual pleasure that many men seem to achieve with little effort involved. Let’s face it, women are complicated, no more so than down there. So many of us have to plan for our sexual pleasure, we must hunt it down, just as we plan for and then hunt down our shoes and handbags.

But the process is so very different. We plan the visit to our favourite stores, places where we lovingly remember past shoes and conquests. In the shop we are served politely (hopefully), we parade around with different shoes and bags, trying on different personas until something feels just right. Then we emerge out into the day clutching the captured prey. It’s so different when it comes to sex. Planning feels like the antithesis of romance. Then we have to take our clothes off, and many of us don’t like what we see in ourselves, or our partners. We must reveal ourselves completely to another person, risking boredom, frustration, perhaps shame. It is not always easy, and it’s not always fulfilling, and it makes accessory shopping look like a breeze.

The small pleasures

Part of me feels sad that buying something may be more pleasurable than making something – love – with someone else, but maybe that’s the modern world. Now we buy what we used to make – bread, clothes, jumpers. My father even made our television. What can happen between two human beings who care about each other can be wonderful, and I think it’s worth the effort and time. But then again, there are too many reasons we find to berate ourselves. Not enough exercise, too much tele watching, haven’t cleaned the bathroom. The list goes on. And life is often tough. I say take the pleasure where you can find it. Have one too many pairs of beautiful shoes. Buy the handbag you dream of. Make love to someone else, or not. Life is not meant to be like walking on a stony road with no shoes. Even thongs are preferable to that.