May 18, 2010

Travels on Interstate 8 ½

Shoes, dear friends, hold a quasi-sacred place in the minds of many women, women we know, admire and love. They have always held my attention too. The impact that a good pair of heels has on the stature of a woman, on the gait of her walk, on the shape of her calves, on the sounds in a room is considerable. All the world may indeed be a stage, but when I hear the click clack, I rather think of the world as a runway.

I have shoe obsessed friends. Friends who can talk shoes, and create from mere words perfect pictures of the jeweled and ribboned pumps of their dreams in tones that range from hushed and reverential to crystal shattering squeals. I have observed them flipping through fashion mag photo spreads, absorbing images obliquely and still paying polite attention to conversations whirling around them. And shop, sweet mercy, they shop, whole day-long marathons and lunch break sprints spent cradling, trying and now and then buying a new pair. A new pair somehow different from another pair or four already toppling out of boxes at home. Different in ways that a younger me could not perceive.

Long before my Petra-days, I had a girlfriend with superb fashion sense, an epic budget, terrific legs and chronic lateness. She would stand flummoxed in the foyer wanting, needing me to pick a winner from the two pairs she held dangling by the straps. Typically, I didn’t have the heart for the effort, being more concerned with whether our dinner reservation would be held.

- So, which ones do you think?
- You are gorgeous. We are late. One of each dammit, come on, can we get moving already?

I am happy to report she had a weak throwing arm.

From time to time, I might be in better spirits, and we might have a little time before being unfashionably late. Being a good sport, I might engage and offer an opinion.

- So which ones do you think?
- Both are nice, really, go with the ones on the left
- The spectator?
- Sure, if that’s what you call it
- I don’t think they are going to work
- The why did you take them out of the closet?
- They remind me of the ones I was thinking about wearing
- Then why the hell don’t you have them out?
- They kill my feet
- Why then for crying out loud did you buy them?
- Only because they are perfect! Here, I’ll show you, it won’t take a minute ...
- Please, god no, the ones on the right are fine, really
- Fine. Fine. Did you want me to look fine tonight? Fine is good enough for you?

Vive la difference, I was able to say to myself then. And here I am today with less difference to vive about.

Over the roughly two years that I have been “out” to myself as a Cross Dresser, I seem to have gradually acquired a better understanding of the passions that shoes can engender. I am slowly falling under the spell. The spell seems to me to be a two part compound: Having + Getting. Having consists of all the lovely things associated with choosing and wearing a perfect pair of shoes for the day or evening ahead. Getting is everything that happens before that. Shopping in short. I promise you an essay on the whole Having realm some time in the future. Today though, let us focus on the Getting, shall we?

To shop for shoes in the way that women do is one of those pampering luxuries exclusive to the fairer sex, and largely free of the lumbering, awkward, impatient presence of the less fair sex. Exclusively female experiences are a real draw to me. I truly enjoy knowing and feeling things that the next guy does not.

I enjoy as well the warm, sisterly welcome that has been extended my way on those days I have been out en femme, in the tall racks. On at least one
occasion I “passed” fully and was simply assumed to be another women on the perched prowl for a new pair. On a couple of other occasions, my eyes met with a fellow shopper, and my smile was returned. I interpreted the look as meaning … “you might not be all woman, but you get shoes, and I get that, so bless your heart…”.

The unspoken Rules of the Rails seemed to reveal themselves, wordlessly. Adequate personal space is maintained between shoppers. If a woman is eyeing a particular pair, she is allowed first refusal. No reaching through sight lines. Honest unsolicited comments are welcomed, provided they are limited to, “yes”, “nice”, “love them”, and other such economical endearments. Never, ever, go negative with the commentary. Mirror space is sacred. No jostling, sighing or toe tapping. Very civilized.

Staff have been super helpful too. “Have a seat or take a look around and I will be back in a jiffy with the other half of the pair. Oh, I have another I think you will like too. Here is a shoe horn, and the mirror is free over there”. Service at its finest typically.

The few purchases I have made while in drab mode have gone without incident. Twice, memorably, the sales assistant reminded me to hang on to the receipt. “If they don’t feel good or just don’t look nice on you, you can bring them back. OK?”. Delivered with a smile. This is a clear indication to me that anyone in the business of selling shoes is no stranger to fellows with a certain penchant. I really do not believe that one can surprise or alarm staff in a shoe shop provided one is not wearing a belted trench coat and is sweating copiously. Thankfully, that person is not you or I.

With that said though. shopping for shoes while in guy mode is less of a joy for me. A man, clearly on his own, looking for women’s shoes is very evidently shopping for himself. You can gift a dress or lingerie. Shoes? Not so much. My unease is not driven by embarrassment: my blush thresholds are far too high for that. It is more that I feel vaguely at odds with the vibe. I feel as though I have farted in a swimming pool and somebody spotted the bubbles.

Women’s shoe shops feel to me like a refuge of sorts, a private space, members only, reserved for women, and rightly repellant of men. Out of respect for the that, I think I will do my best to keep things this way and do my shoe shopping only when out in full Petra mode.

So, as it stands, here in my Drabbatical months, I have more shoes than I need, and less than I want. Yes, the hook is in. I have a monkey on my back, and a strap round my ankle. And I feel fine. How about you? Commentary and chatter most welcomed.

Photos from talented designers you can find on CC''s always fashionable Couture Carrie.


Wendy said...

Dear Girl,

Though I have yet to muster the courage to shop the shoe racks en femme, I sense you have caught the essence of the shoe shopping experience women find so enticing. Now I want to get out there and indulge too, but alas, where to find size 13's? I'm stuck with the on-line shoe store experience ... better than none, but not at all what you describe ... sigh.


Tights Lover said...

I've got to agree with Wendy. Size 12 can be awfully difficult to find, as well.

You make a very interesting point about shopping in drab (ha!) mode. I've always felt perfectly at ease while lingerie shopping. Shoe shopping, on the other hand, always leaves me constantly glancing over both shoulders. I guess its true...I've bought lingerie as gifts countless times. When it comes to shoes? It's always been no more than a gift certificate, or a trip to the shoe store with the giftee...

Petra Bellejambes said...

Wendy and TL, I get your point about size fully, and am sympathetic as can be.

I get revenge in the womens shoe department because I have the opposite problem when buying guy shoes. Assortment and style in my size is non-existent. I keep a cobbler in business keeping what fits me road-worthy.

Petra shopping provides me with a rare experience --- choice.

Thanks for the visits and comments as always!

Lynn Jones said...

I think the right pair of shoes can truly make an outfit. Is there anything in our wardrobe that changes a look so quickly as heels vs ballet pumps vs boots? :-)

I'm with you on the shoe buying front: I'm fairly sure no-one buys shoes as a gift... at least, not in store as far as I know. Purchasing in either mode doesn't seem to cause trouble: in fact, in male mode, some assistants get downright chatty!

lynnd said...

Shoes!! They are like a drug, they just make you happy, thats why you can't ever have enough. I know for me, as a GG, shopping for shoes is the most fun. Everyone looks good in a cute or hot pair of shoes, no matter what your dress size is. I think I need a new pair for this weekend, DSW here I come!

Couture Carrie said...

Shoe shopping is rather rugged for me too, darling Petra, as my feet are a size (gulp!) 11!

Thank you so much for the mention and link ~ you are really a dear!


heelshields said...

I have been thinking about writing a article about gifting shoes on my blog and I guess I must - there are some superstitions associated with it that keep the buying of shoes as gifts to a minimum.

@Wendy there is a shoe store named Marmi that specializes in large sizes with style (ask for Heel Shields when you stop in - been trying to get in that store for awhile).

When you have a hard to fit size, you really need to get Heel Shields for driving because you know that once you get the black drivers heel scuff the shoes have to be tossed since the ugly scuff mark can't be repaired.

heelshields said...

Me Again! I didn't want to leave without mentioning how much I enjoyed your insight into women and shoe shopping.

You are so right, you never say - that is fugly unless you are with your friend no matter how ugly the shoe is.

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