2014-10-08 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

A footwear dilemma in the City of Light


The American cosmetics mogul Helena Rubinstein famously said, “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.” The French would agree, especially when it comes to fashion. The difference between French women and American women, I have often heard, is that French women are willing to be uncomfortable. In order to look good, they’ll happily take a little pain. After all, what’s a toe pinch here or a constricted ribcage there, as long as one looks one’s best?

I’m in Paris for the next month, the city of romance, surrounded by dashing, well-dressed men. My apartment sits smack in the middle of the bourgeois section of the eighth arrondissement, and every day I see guys handsome enough to make me cry.

If I’m going to find love in a place like this, I’ll to need to step up my game. Surely, how hard can it be?

The trick to fitting in here in Paris, I have discovered, is the shoes.

Unlike in other cities (New York especially, where wealth and class are signaled by a high-end dress code), Parisian stylishness is all about having your own specific look. Even in this neighborhood, women aren’t necessarily dressed up. They’re just dressed well. I’ve seen tailored blazers and edgy leather jackets, miniskirts and trousers.

The one thing they all share? Great shoes.

I’ve glimpsed an alarming number of high heels, and I wince every time I see them. The women who haven’t stepped into stilettos are mostly wearing flats, those ballet-inspired numbers with soles as thin as paper plates. And the ones who have opted out of flats are wearing cool sneakers that let you know they have mastered the art of casual footwear. The problem is, I have not.

My feet are these tender little things, and unfortunately I have some complications with my back. I used to wear high heels like it was no big thing, but now the muscles along my spine scream if I walk more than a block in anything but orthotics. The transition has been rough on my pride. So rough, that I swore I wouldn’t wear those clunkers in Paris. I’d bite the proverbial bullet if it meant looking good.

That lasted about 30 minutes. I took a tour of my neighborhood wearing a pair of cute flats with about as much support as the folded map I carried in my pocket. By the time I made it back to the apartment, I could barely stand.

The next day I bought a pair of Converse, those uber-cool sneakers I see all the Parisians wearing. I set out again, this time to take a tour through the Parc Monceau. By the time I’d made a lap around the carousel, the new shoes had rubbed blisters all over my poor feet. I hobbled home. Today, I did what I swore I’d never do: I put on my orthotic shoes. The result? Bliss.

I know that beauty means suffering, but life is hard enough without comfortable footwear. And if the men of Paris find me less charming in my sneakers? Ah, well. I already have my ticket home. ¦

— Artis Henderson is the author of “Unremarried Widow” published by Simon and Schuster.

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