The Tragic Beauty of Vintage Shoes

N.B. Our friend the Legatrix, who last time wrote about the ill-omened hairdos, is back with the post that the Manolo thinks is brilliant.

I love vintage clothing. The cut, elegance, and craftsmanship of clothing from the 1930s to the 1960s have always captivated me. Perhaps it’s because I can’t separate the fashions of those decades from the films. I’ve got my Bette Davis suits, my Barbara Stanwyck blouses, and my Jayne Mansfield sweaters. I wear my vintage pieces for work and play, mixing them up with current clothes to keep anything from looking costumey. I love the art of vintage clothing construction so much that I’ve even bought scraps of vintage dresses only to admire the exquisite handsewn beadwork left on pieces of shattered silk. But there’s one place I draw the line: vintage shoes. (Cue outrage and indignation from all the vintage fashionistas out there.)

Here’s the deal. Unless you’re a collector who hangs fancy shoes from your Christmas tree, don’t buy vintage shoes. No matter how curvaceous the vamp, well-turned the heel, or smooth the skin (yes, we’re still talking about shoes,) try to resist their siren song. I speak from experience. Over the decades, leather weakens, glue dries out, and stitching breaks. However accomplished your cobbler, he cannot restore such shoes to wearable condition. So when you consider buying a pair of vintage shoes, ask yourself, “Do I feel lucky?”

Right now I have two pairs of vintage shoes. I wear neither of them. Because for every pair of vintage shoes presently in my closet, three died painful, public, embarrassing deaths. There isn’t a place in New York City where I haven’t wiped out in a pair of gorgeous vintage heels. I went down in a blaze of pantyhose when my 1940s snakeskin ankle-straps disintegrated underfoot at Columbia University. I landed skirt-over-face on a midtown sidewalk when the heels of my 1950s cherry-red babydolls snapped clear off beneath me. And, apart from the concussion, I can’t remember what happened after a pair of 1930s golden sandals gave out in the East Village.

So rather than risk your hard-earned money on a pair of shoes that may leave you and your virtue(s) splayed out on the pavement for all to see, save your pennies for new shoes with a vintage vibe.

These crisp white lace-ups from Chloe remind me of the Katharine Hepburn’s sporty chic look.

Katherine Hepburn Wearing Shoes That Look Like They're From Chloe

Kate says, 'If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.'

They’re reminiscent of the ghillies that were popular in the 1940s, but are miles away from the orthopedic ones your nana still wears.

And these deceptively simple Kate Spade pumps, with their almond-shaped toe and low, curved vamp, are reminiscent of Jean Harlow’s infamous “where’s my shoe?” scene in Red-Headed Woman.

Jean Harlow wearing Kate Spade?

Jean Harlow says, 'Do it again! I like it!'

The heel is narrower than you’d see on a shoe from the 1930s, but the sleek and subtle curves are emphatically art deco. They’d be as fitting at the office as they would out on date night.

And finally, there are these shoes from Salvatore Ferragamo. Every time I see them, they bring Sophia Loren to mind. Like her, they’re classic and restrained, yet unabashedly sexy.

Sofia Loren wearing vintage Ferragamo?

Sofia tells Salvatore, 'Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.'


Chinese Big Shoe: Automotive Edition

Chinese Big Shoe Car

Manolo says, as the longtime internet friends of the Manolo know, the Chinese Love the Big Shoes! And now they love the big shoes with the wheels and the motors, that you can drive.

A footwear manufacturer in China has made an electric car out of a giant shoe. It can carry two people up to 250 miles at speeds of up to 20mph on a single charge of the battery underneath the driver’s seat. The leather ‘bodywork’ is made in the same way as a normal shoe but on a bigger scale, using the hide of five bulls.


Company president Wang Zhengtao says it is designed as a promotional tool and he plans to make 40 for stores around the country.

Ayyy! The entire fleet of the giant Chinese shoe cars, which will join the previous examples of the Chinese big shoes: Chinese Big Shoe 1, Chinese Big Shoe 2, Chinese Big Shoe 3, Chinese Big Shoe 4, Chinese Big Shoe 5, Chinese Big Shoe 6, Chinese Big Shoe 7.

P.S. Many thanks to the Manolo’s internet friend Magista for the link.

Whose Shoes Wednesday… The Answer!

Manolo asked, whose shoes?

Valerie Bertinelli shoes

Manolo answers, it is the Valerie Bertinelli!

Congratulations to the Manolo’s internet friend Patricia who was the first to correctly identify this week’s personage of note.


New Elie Tahari Wedges for the Spring

Manolo says, earlier today, while the Manolo was sitting in his usual cafe, enjoying the kir royale and the most beautiful spring afternoon, he could not but help notice two young women nearby who were wearing the shorty skirts and the Uggs.

“Please,” bethought the Manolo, “you are both 27. You should not be dressing as if you were waiting for the Justin Beiber tickets. And it is spring, which is not the season for the Uggs!”

“So, Mr. Dandified Smartypants,” retorted the girls in the mind of the Manolo, “what should we be wearing?”

“Beautiful spring wedges from the Elie Tahari!”

Robin Wedge from Elie Tahari

The Robin Wedge.

Wedge from Elie Tahari

The Rita Wedge.

Alicia Wedge from Elie Tahari

The Alicia Wedge



N.B. Here is another guest blog by the Manolo’s friend Sarah, who last time posted about the Shakespearean Stockings

The Manolo and I have had a bit of email correspondence, from time to time, on the entrancing subject of la nostalgie de la boue—longing for the mud— wherein otherwise apparently sensible people spend a few thousand dollars on clothing that appears to have been grabbed from the rag bag moments before being used to shove into a gap that is allowing the fierce winter winds to penetrate one’s attic garret while one burns blog posts to keep warm.

At the far end of the scale from this is the formal, mannered, perfect-in-every-detail, extensively focused on cravats and crinolines kind of style that, for me, is all about the movie, The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Straight Up Pimernelin'

…and Grace Kelly, in Rear Window.

Grace Kelly


Somewhere in an erotically-charged sweet spot between the two extremes though, is the delicious notion of déshabille—careful carelessness, artful artlessness, delicately tousled perfection. This is where poetry lives. And poetry lives here because déshabille is all about suggestion, implication, nuance, and detail.



The IFB Interview With the Manolo

Manolo says, there is the short interview with the Manolo at the website of the Independent Fashion Bloggers. Here is the excerpt:

What are you working on now?

The Manolo has just finished his new novel, which is with his literary agent and should be finding the publisher shortly. Otherwise, the Manolo does what he always does: awakens late, drinks the tiny little cups of the strong coffee, looks at the interwebs for the few minutes, and then posts something that he hopes will amuse his internet friends. After that, he goes for the lengthy stroll, boutonnière in lapel, walking stick in hand. In the late afternoon, he will meet with his usual friends at the usual places, where they will drink the kir royales and talk about the various things. That is what the Manolo is working on at the moment, attempting to live the sort of life that would have made Epicurus proud.

But, now you must go read the whole thing.

Whose Shoes Wednesday

Manolo asks, whose shoes?


Jeffrey Campbell: Would You, Could You?

If anybody has mastered the perfect Summer shoe it is Jeffery Campbell. With bold designs and inspiring shapes, I can’t even glance at his collection without wiping the drool from my chin. While compiling my Summer must-haves list, I stumbled upon these bold little ditties:

jeffrey campbell salvatore
A bit loud and extremely eye catching, I think these Jeffrey Campbell Salvatore Wedges are perfect for adding color to the gray scaled mundanity of everyday life. These wedges are a wonderful homage to honor the late great Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo (specifically his 1937 wedges, worn by Carmen Miranda, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn), whose lovely designs can be seen here. With each step you take it’s like you’re punching the day in the face with a rainbow. Available in nude and silver, these wedges are so bright and lovely, it is as if they were dyed using the blood of a unicorn. I love them, I’d wear them. Would you?

But even if you would, that doesn’t always mean you could (e.g. me running a marathon or Jennifer Garner making a good movie). This concept is also perfectly illustrated by these interestingly gorgeous Jeffrey Campbell Benched Cut Out Platforms:

Jeffrey Campbell benched cut out
Jeffrey Campbell really wins the prize for beautiful originality with these. To me they look like a pair of Picasso constructed high end rocking horses that you wear on your tootsies, but in the best way! There’s no doubt that these shoes are interesting and exciting…but are they wearable? Arch support is nearly entirely eliminated, and I fear the worst when it comes to issues of rubbing your soles the wrong way. Then again…the beautiful earth tones, the sleek vintage style with an overdose of originality, they seem like they would go with anything and everything and can’t help but want them! I just don’t know if I could actually wear them. Could you?


Things That Make the Manolo Laugh: The Worlds Best Videogame

Manolo says, what sensible person has not wished to take the bazooka to the œuvre of this pernicious popinjay?



Shoe Prints in the Sand

It’s hard enough to walk in the sand barefoot. We all look silly, fumbling around like drunks or puppies who have yet to grow into their paws. And even if we put on sandals or (heaven forbid) flip-flop, the sand flies up and whips the back of our thighs causing irritation and utter annoyance. So why not make walking a bit more challenging if the payoff is that you look much more glamorous? Yes ladies, I’m talking about beach heels.

I was lucky enough to slip away from my New York duties and head to (currently somewhat) Los Angeles for the week. As my friends and I strolled down the boardwalk in Santa Monica and stumbled onto the warm sand, I couldn’t help but compile a list of my favorite potential beach heels. It goes a little something like this:

TOMS Canvas Wedges: simple, comfortable and affordable, these wedges would look great paired with a vintage 60’s bikini.

Tori Burch Wood Wedge Espadrille: the espadrille style is perfect for a warm summers day.

Chloe Cork-Wedge Slingback Mule: the lightweight cork and the adorable braided leather give the wedge a breezy boho feel.

Christian Louboutin Chus: these shoes are fun flirty and playful, like the shoe sized embodiment of splish-splash.

Give your ego (and derriere) a boost this season by adding a pair of heels to your beach attire. All you need is some confidence, focus and those wobbling baby doe legs will stride through the sand like a gazelle. (I only fell twice).



Help for the Calloused Feets

Manolo says, our friend Glinda has the review of the products that will help.


FN Shoe Star, Episode 9

Manolo says, and now the ninth episode of the FN Shoe Star is available for your viewing enjoyment. In this episode, the remaining five contestants are asked to produce the…. rocker-soled toning shoes?!?

Why should the peoples who run the FN Shoe Star stop there? Why not give each of the contestants the used steel-belted radial tire and ask them to make the Crocs knock offs?

In the first of the places, the Manolo is not convinced that simply walking around in the magic ugly shoes with the strange soles will make you fitter. (Although, now that the Manolo thinks about it, strapping the cinder blocks to the feets and clomping around all day would be quite the work out…perhaps the Manolo should seek the patent.)

And, in the second of the places, is this the contest to pick the next great young shoe designer, or is it the sort of fraternity initiation gone wrong?

“Pledges, you wish to be the shoe designers? First, chug the gallon of beer from the Sacred Boot of Manolo Blahnik. And now…you must make the stupid-looking shoe that only the dupes and the fools would wish to wear!”

Later, back in frat house dining room, Michael Atmore and the other upperclassmen, are having the good laugh.

This is the Manolo’s complaint: it is already difficult enough to make the beautiful shoes when you have unlimited access to the best materials and workmen. So, why place the unnatural constraints upon the designers, constraints which almost certainly guarantee the production of the ugly shoe?

Oh, right, it is because the American shoe-buying public is comprised mostly of the easily duped and the foolish.

FN Shoe Star peoples, let the Manolo help you…

“Designers, here is the pile of patent leather. Make the most beautiful patent leather flat you can imagine.”

See? That was easy, yes?