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God save the shoe stores

July 22, 2009

About every four blocks on nearly every street in Paris, there’s a little knot of shoe stores. And despite the fact that these stores are everywhere, it’s impossible to find one that’s empty. I swear, if the apocalypse came, there would still be people in those shops trying to decide between wedges and heels.

With good reason. Here in Paris, the standards for footwear are entirely different from those of the U.S. People in America tend to rate an everyday shoe first based on its comfort level — meaning that Nikes will do for most days, maybe flip-flops if it’s hot, extra points if they’re hot pink.

A pair of Minelli's heels that you'll see in shop windows now.

Here's a pair of Minelli heels that you can see in Paris shop windows right now (not on sale, of course).

For most of the people I know, heels are strictly an evening shoe or at best a business shoe. Meanwhile, the “cute” bar is unquestionably low (Case in point: I once heard a pair of tangerine-colored foam sandals described as cute simply for their flaming color. I have nothing against bright orange, but come now). Here in Paris, I’m pretty sure there’s a shoe police that will get you if you wear white sneakers for an activity other than soccer (and even then, cleats are preferred). I have a feeling they send you to one of the overcrowded tour buses, France’s private hell.

Women in France do not wear sneakers. They wear strappy sandals (never the Y-strap-style ones you’ll find at Old Navy); they wear heels; they wear boots (even in winter).

This is a pair of sandals bought for me as a gift last summer. You'll see feet dressed in these sorts of leather sandals all over Paris.

This is a pair of sandals bought for me as a gift last summer. There are feet dressed in these sorts of leather sandals all over Paris.

And most of all, they wear ballerines. I suspect they are so called because they look like ballerinas’ shoes, except they’re leather, they’re satin, they’re indigo, red, black, and brown. Occasionally they’re a shocking white (shocking because, let’s face it, Paris streets are dirty, yet somehow these white shoes always seem clean). In the U.S. I’ve heard them called Mary Janes; they wouldn’t be worth noting except that here, Mary Janes have taken over the place of the tennis shoe. There are even sporty PUMA-esque Mary Janes for the athletic and chic.

In all sincerity, I believe that someday someone will name a holiday for whoever invented ballerine shoes. She (or he) has saved us all from walking around Paris wincing in our four-inch-heels, and I definitely feel that gratitude is in order. Plus, what with all the holidays already in place here, I’m pretty sure that no one would mind one more.

A pair of typical Parisian men's shoes. See how they look like sneakers made of supple black leather?

A pair of typical Parisian men's shoes. See how they look like sneakers made of supple black leather?

Until the ballerine, men seem to have pulled off “stylish” much more easily than the women. They simply took their sneakers and covered them over in leather, or perhaps elongated the toe of a loafer into an elegant triangle point. Voilà — a perfectly Paris-worthy pair of kicks.

Obviously, the boys haven’t lost much in the way of comfort. Meanwhile, we girls were rebandaging blisters that reform every time we buy a new pair of heels and secretly envying the women who prance around in heels as though they’d spent their childhood walking on a slightly downward slant.

It is precisely to avoid these sorts of adventures that I bought my latest ballerines.

My latest pair of ballerines.

My latest pair of ballerines.

They are the very essence of comfort and just adorable enough to get by — dark brown suede with a little bow (and a nice shape that seems to elongate my stubby feet). In their simplicity lies their strength: I can walk all about Paris in these shoes without so much as a blister. And for this, mesdames et messieurs, I am eternally grateful.

We might be in a recession; there might be thousands of companies that go under, battling higher prices and fewer sales. But God forbid that anything should happen to the shoe stores. It just wouldn’t be right.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. sarahmorning permalink
    July 23, 2009 5:03 am

    I envy your desire to elongate your feet. I have a hard enough time finding shoes in my actual size, and dread the ones that make them look bigger!

    I definitely should come visit you. It would give me a chance to wear all the shoes I never get to wear.

    So…if you wear sneakers there and you aren’t actively playing a sport, are you automatically pegged as a tourist? I hear in Boston, if you wear a hoodie, you get pegged as a tourist. But, I plan to change that. I love my hoodies. 🙂

  2. Lise permalink
    July 24, 2009 4:38 pm

    Nice post ! I could not take off my eyes of the screen before I had finished reading =)

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