Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

On the return of the clumpy shoes

My piece from today's Guardian

As I walked down Oxford Street a couple of weeks ago, my eyes slid to the left and I noticed a window full of sensible shoes, and they were quite nice in a modest sort of way. But in despair I saw the sign above the entrance: Clarks, the home of regulation school sandals, the shop where I was taken by my mother to have my feet measured and x-rayed with an exciting machine that could see through to the bones.

Alexa Chung in loafers Fashion disobedience … Alexa Chung wears Russell & Bromley loafers. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Yet peering further, I noticed that the shop was crammed with fashionable young people trying on footwear with low heels and rounded toes. Venturing inside, this startling vision was confirmed. All around were rows and rows of shoes that looked comfortable. My feet sighed with pleasure at the sight of them. They had nice straps to hold them on and the soles were airy cushions of padded leather. There was not a single pair of what the magazines call "fierce heels", shoes inspired by Chinese footbinding, designed to cruelly entrap the toes in sharp points and elevate the heels to such heights that walking becomes a hobble. There were no bondage shoes at all. Nor were there many ballet flats, those flimsy little numbers with papery soles, sending shock waves up your spine every time your foot hits the pavement, making your calves scream.

The shoes in Clarks had low, stumpy heels. They were visitors from a strange world. But were they in fashion again now? Not a single magazine article had proclaimed the death of the uncomfortable shoe. At London fashion week, models continued to wobble along the catwalk in vertiginous platforms and there had been no reports in the financial pages of the decline of Manolo Blahnik (who refuses even to make wedges) or Christian Louboutin. Yet the shop seemed to be minting money. I sat down next to an exquisite Italian woman in the kind of skinny jeans that are artfully folded around the ankle, requiring the centuries of visual acuity only granted to a country of people who can wear beige without looking like a geography teacher. She carried a Prada bag, and dozens of shoes lay all around her as she kept trying on more and more pairs. Every time she cast one off, I moved them towards me.

read on


tiah said...

I read the article this morning in The Guardian. I kept nodding my head. My son's school parking lot is truly rough terrain. There are parts that only 4x4s can negotiate - and I don't own one.

WAHM's want something other than flip-flops, trainers and flats to wear while running through potholes after their children.

Deja Pseu said...

And that sound you hear is a hearty Huzzah! originating in southern California. I've always been about comfort + cute, but was surprised to see so many stylish, style-consicous women when I visited the Arche store in Paris last week. (Arche shoes = foot heaven.) I've seen some pretty cute Clarks lately too.

StyleSpy said...

The day I start wearing the same shoes as my sweet but frumpy, frowsy mother is the day I want you to beat me to death with one of my Marni wedges and bury me in one of the flower beds in front of Neiman Marcus. That being said, my errand-running is made much happier by a good pair of driving mocs or paddock boots. But I don't think I'll ever be able to do the Clark's.

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Mim said...

Good news! The hell with masochism.

Arabella said...

For lovely shoes with sane heels I go to Re-Mix vintage (LA or online). There is no reason why a 2 inch heel, or less, should be frumpy.
In the States, the designs on offer via Clarks seem very dull in color as well as style choices. Perhaps the UK offers a few corkers - I remember a silver Mary Jane a couple of years ago.

Toby Wollin said...

The most comfortable shoes I ever bought (and I'm still wearing them) are a desperation pair I got two summers ago at Clarks on Oxford St. in London. I had gone out to shop in what I consider 'walking shoes' here - by the time I got to Oxford Street, I was hobbling. So I hobbled into Clarks and started trying on lower and lower shoes until I put on a pair where the pain in my feet stopped and I bought them. This model, by the way, is NOT sold in the US, otherwise I should have bought every other color.

phyllis said...

I have a pair of black Clarks short boots with a 2 inch heel. They are well made not too trendy or too staid. I can walk all day in them!

zoe said...

I am 20, love clothes, feel naked without jewellery....but i reject the big heel! I've felt this way for a long time, the only heels I really wear are a pair of low heeled bertie chelsea boots. I like to be able to run and keep up with the guys! heres hoping that shops catch up soon, much as I love biker boots now and again it'd be nice to have something fancier but not painful

Susan said...

I have been buying regularly from Clarks ever since I discovered their website, it's great. The shoes don't have to be clumpy - I have ventured back into heels, not high, but higher than flat and indulged my inner Mary Poppins shamelessly as a result.

Anonymous said...

I have wide, flat feet and an arch support. So I wear El Naturalista, some Pikolinos and the Australian brand Klouds (wide strap, cute button with rosette on the instep). Flat shoes don't have to be frumpy--it helps if they are coloured or have detailing. They do require some searching for, but are worth it. Lucy Sussex

metro intern said...

I think this look is such a cool alternative to everything glam and girly. These lofa styles finish any vintage look off to perfection - Im a lofa lover!

miss cavendish said...

It depends on the clumpers, I think. I'd want them to be innocently clumpy, like Miss Chung's, pictured, rather than artfully so. That said, I do miss my (unself-conscious) Doc Martens (shoes, not boots) of yore. They had, I thought, the right mix of clump and integrity.

lagatta à montréal said...

I loved this article (am a regular Guardian reader). My cute but clumpy footwear of the moment are low-heeled (but not flat) ankle booties from the German firm Josef Seibel. They are soft leather, leather lined with a gummy sole, so comfy despite my arthritis and while not elegant, not mumsy or masculine à la Birkenstock either.

Hasn't Clarks had some problems in terms of qualithy recently? The last pair of Clarks shoes I bought hurt my feet, and the last pair of sandals went into the bin after one summer.

Good to hear from you, Linda.

melinda said...

I can't say I am fully behind the Clarks but the number of my clients that veer away from the heels to this type are many! Love your blog!

Wendy Greer said...

Ahhh Clark's shoes. If nothing else they are comfy.
I must admit I've nipped into the Oxford Street store on more than one occasion to swap the heels for a sensible model!
The only thing that often puts me off is the fact that the Clark's logo / name is often visible on the leather of the shoe itself. I'm not usually a label girl but come on you don't want to advertise the fact that you got those lovely shoes from Clarks do you?

English Rose said...

gotta love the good old fashioned clumpy shoes

Duchesse said...

Here in Toronto the hip young girls are wearing Clarks Wallabees with tights and miniskirts. But I prefer Arche or Thierry Rabotin, a more elegant, stealth comfort shoe.

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keli * said...

ohh just what I need. Otherwise, ballet flats might be the death of me!

smilla said...

this is a wonderful blog with a wonderful motto...
I really wish it will be continued!?

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion said...

I bought a pair of the Clark's wedge heeled booties a few months ago, and wear them all the time! They work with jeans or dress pants and I can walk in them all day. I love them so much, I bought a second pair to have on hand when these wear out, although Clark's are so well made, I don't expect that to happen anytime soon. Here they are. I highly recommend them.

Rosaria said...

I went into Clarks on Oxford St two weeks before Xmas (where the attractive ankle boots I wanted were already no longer available in my size) and my daughter shrieked You Can't Possibly Wear That.

Oh yes I can, and eventually did.

The styles were better than I had anticipated and some wedge and chunkier styles looked more flattering on than off. And being partially hidden by trouser length also helped.

The prices were extremely reasonable. Clarks has undergone a bit of a makeover, I think.

Paddock boots are fine for the under 25s, but personally I think they will always look better in the farmyard.

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p_courtney said...

My aunt recently attempted a style rejuvenation, she was the said frumpste you speak of. Now she is really quite cutting the mark! nothing like a bit of DKNY & karen Millen for the Posh-State-School mother look.

Caroline Amelia said...

I no what you mean clarks is definately going up in the fashion shoe world...i remember to once at the begining of the school year i dreaded the clarks trip for sensible un-cool shoes that everyone had...and its true you could tell who had been to clarks...the best bit definately the food measuring machine x

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Luke 1977 said...

Please never let me buy old man shoes

Angela Pittacas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angela Pittacas said...

Nothing beats a well crafted shoe-heel or no heel! Check out who have just gone on-line (originally only based in a little show room in Southgate, North London) Beautiful handmade pieces one can actually walk in! x

Digs said...

Yukk to Sensible Shoes. Here's to Highest of Heels, and Superbly Stratospheric Soles!

jessica mcclintock bedding said...

Can't accept clumpy shoes - no way :)

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Eric said...

I don't know what to think about comfortable flats. My feet have been tortured by heels for so long that I don't know what to do about this.

california dreamer said...

There is a corner of my soul that appreciates the clumpy shoe, since it was in vogue during my fashion-formative years. Another corner salivates over the sleek and elegant. But often sleek and elegant becomes long and horrific in a size 10 (US), and once I bought the shoe that was cuter when it was a half-size smaller.

Yes, I own several pair of Clarks. They save my feet, and thus my disposition, to the eternal gratitude of everyone that knows me. And they are not disproportionately ugly in my size.

But it's hard to feel frumpy when the fashion pages feature pretty dresses floating atop long legs that terminate in...clumpy heels. A shoe with a thick platform and a high heel that covers the top of the foot to the ankle with a heavy knot of flowers or fringe looks...clunky.

i-lovemondays said...

Clarks bring back memories of boarding school and my grandfather's shoes. But hey, you can still bag them and swap with gorgeous stilettos, once your destination is reached...

Anonymous said...

Beautiful shoes give you ugly feet; ugly shoes give you beautiful feet.

Anonymous said...

Love this post! I'm all about flats and comfortable shoes.....AND fashion. Flats make it a little more challenging, but all the more worth it.

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