Book Review: 'Women From the Ankle Down' by Rachelle Bergstein

A footnote to history as published in the June 2012 issue

by Amanda Lovell
women from ankle down image
Photograph: Avery Powell

If you could glimpse the passing parade of the last hundred years or so from behind a slightly raised curtain, you’d have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in this richly anecdotal history of shoes. From the Mary Janes and T-straps that literally let flappers kick up their heels to the fitness-driven sneaker chic of the 1980s (there’s a whole section on Jane Fonda); from the semiotics of stilettos to the subversive politics of Doc Martens, with their color-coded laces (yellow or blue could mean you’d killed a police officer); from the Mary Quant boots that jump-started the ’60s to the magic of Manolos (“If you don’t see the magic,” Blahnik is quoted as saying, “stick to Reeboks”), Bergstein explores what shoes—in real life and in popular culture—have to say about status, sexuality, values and aspirations. And raises such burning questions as: How many pairs of ruby slippers did MGM have squirreled away, anyway? How did Audrey Hepburn, with her boat feet, really feel about being photographed in flats and little white socks? And: Why would any sane woman shell out $895 (as many did) for a pair of crystal-buckled blue-satin pumps, even if they were just like the ones that did for Carrie Bradshaw what the glass slipper did for Cinderella?

Next Book Review: 'People Who Eat Darkness' by Richard Lloyd Parry

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