Commentary: Heels

By Louis A. Zona
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When I was a kid, I owned two pairs of shoes, one for school and church, one for play. If Mom and Dad could have afforded an additional pair or two, they would have walked me into J.C. Penney and would have purchased a pair specifically for church since I was an altar boy in sight of hundreds of people.

The shoes designated for play, I must admit, were pretty well-worn. All of the baseball games that I played on a neighborhood cinder lot ruined any shoe, especially the rubber-soled variety.

I remember that one summer my rubber-soled shoes were so worn that I put leaves inside of them to protect my feet from the rough cinder surface of our ball field.

One reason I liked the occasional visit to J.C. Penney was the X-ray machine that scoped your feet to see if the shoes that Mom and Dad were buying me were a good fit. You just stepped up and stuck your feet into a box-like structure and there it was, an X-ray of your feet in your new shoes.

Who knew the dangers? Moreover, to think that I must have used the X-ray machine to measure my feet dozens of times.

As I think about it, when you add up all the dental X-rays I’ve had along with X-rays of leg injuries from years of baseball, sprained ankles and knees, and the shoe store “fun” X-rays, I should be glowing yellow by now.

Few people feel comfortable in leather shoes these days. Most instead favor tennis shoes that I find to be excessively hot. Another thing I will never get used to are white-soled athletics shoes worn with a nice suit or dress trousers.

The combination just does not make it but most Americans are searching for comfort instead of a classic good look.

When I was in high school, a shoe style developed. All of my classmates and I wore shoes made of white canvas with white rubber soles where the white rubber encircled the lower third of the shoe. I remember asking my father for $12 so that I could go to the Hanover Shoe Store and buy my pair so I could blend in with all 500 of my fellow students.

As I think back so many decades and those white canvas shoes, I remember a popular entertainer of the day, Pat Boone. He became known for his white bucks (white leather oxfords) and his hit song, “Love Letters in the Sand.” While Boone probably spent hundreds of dollars for his white shoes, we nearly duplicated his look for a mere $12.

A little later in my life came the popularity of loafers, but not ordinary loafers. I am talking about the penny loafer that allowed the wearer to stick a penny into the strap atop the shoes where the copper coin could fit into a tiny pocket for display. I have no idea as to where this idea came from but you saw it widely on college campuses in the 1950s and ’60s.

The Charlie Chaplin character the Little Tramp wore a pair of shoes that were probably twice as big as they should have been to ensure a dramatic duck waddle. The extraordinary length of his shoes caused him to walk rhythmically to the sound of a hand crank on the camera. Come to think of it, my black dress shoes are a bit too long for me, which has me walking like Chaplin.

A fellow by the name of Robert Wadlow who was discovered by Phineas T. Barnum for his circus had a shoe size of 37 AA. When you discover that the average male shoe size is a mere 10.5, you realize just what a showstopper he must have been. Heck, he even makes Shaquille O’Neal’s size 22 appear to be normal.

I worked in a steel mill only one summer. But I was asked to buy steel-toed shoes so I could move through the mill. While I never needed the protection that those shoes offered, they did make you feel safe should a heavy steel object drop on my feet.

People who wear flip-flops in public should not wear flip-flops in public. Period. That is all that I have to say on the topic. They are meant for the shower and should stay in the shower. Even the most attractive of people becomes unattractive instantly when they walk into the mall wearing those horrible things.

My father used to wear a style of shoe called wing tip brogues, a dress shoe that dates to the 1920s. They are characterized by heavy leather that has been tooled into well-established designs. Wing tips continue to be popular among businessmen. Nearly every Wall Street investment banker owns a pair.

I have been sharing my thoughts about men’s shoes, which I know a little about. When I first came to The Butler, I noticed that the cork floors original to the building were covered with tiny holes.

I asked the building superintendent what he knew about the destruction of the cork floors. He replied, stiletto heels. When I investigated further, I discovered that stiletto heels place the entire weight of a woman’s foot on the tiny heel, causing them to puncture the cork flooring.

Men and women who live in the South and Southwest love cowboy boots, which can be incredibly attractive, but which have to be somewhat uncomfortable with their pointed toes that must pinch their feet.

Women’s shoes seem to be all about design and not about comfort. Leonardo da Vinci is credited with inventing the high heel since he thought that a lifted heel makes the calf muscle more attractive.

Nevertheless, with apologies to Leonardo, spending any time in high heels has to be murder.

Now, I will click my heels and be thankful that they are not of the high variety.