September 1st, 2017 .

Putting Their Foot In It: Shoes and Politics

Pat Morden

Yesterday I noticed a very strange thread on my Facebook feed.

People with right-wing tendencies were tearing apart a woman named Lynn Yaeger, a columnist with Vogue Magazine, for her admittedly eccentric fashion sense.

Why? Because Yaeger had previously criticized First Lady and former super model Melania Trump. No, not for her impeccable clothes, but for her footwear.

You see, Melania was photographed getting onto Air Force One for a visit to flood-ravaged Texas wearing stiletto heels. The Twitterverse went crazy, and Mrs. Trump was wearing sneakers by the time she and the President arrived in Texas.

Intrigued by this near-criminal silliness, I read further. A columnist for the right-wing Herald Sun online commented, “The coverage of the shoes is a symbol of the disconnect between the media and all reason. Take down their names and call for medical help.”

Symbol. Interesting. Shoes, I realized, are a recurring symbol in political history.

Think of October 1960, when Nikita Kruschev, the Soviet premier, slammed his shoe on his desk during a United Nations General Assembly session in New York City. In an essay about the shoe bang heard around the world, his granddaughter Nita wrote, “Had it not happened, it would have been invented. The best anecdote is always the one that truly reflects the morality and character of certain times.”

Or remember Imelda Marcos, wife of the Philippines dictator forced to flee in 1986. When their home was searched, officials were astounded to find more than 1,200 pairs of shoes owned by Mrs. Marcos. The shoes became a symbol of extravagance in the face of extreme poverty.

More recently, British Prime Minister Theresa May has been both celebrated and excoriated for her footwear. The British press was deliciously horrified, for example, when she wore a pair of black patent leather over-the-knee boots at an official event hosted by the Queen. The faint whiff of dominatrix was considered inappropriate in the royal presence.

Closer to home, former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney was famous for having a special closet built in the official residence to accommodate his 84 pairs of shoes, including at least 50 pairs of Gucci loafers. Mrs. Mulroney’s custom closet had room for 100 pairs. Later, an inquiry concluded that Mr. Mulroney had acted inappropriately by accepting money from Karlheinz Schreiber. At $800 a pair, Guccis are an expensive hobby.

Interestingly, Canada is home to a unique tradition: The Minister of Finance often wears new shoes to deliver the budget. Joe Oliver sported a pair of “New Balance” brand runners to celebrate his government’s balanced budget. Jim Flaherty once chose to have his shoes resoled, rather than buying new ones, to reflect his commitment to reining in spending.

Shoes, then, are powerful symbols. More powerful, it would appear, than other personal items. They stir up strong feelings, and even more than designer clothes, seem to draw a line between the haves and the have-nots.

But it’s worth remembering that they are just that, symbols. Let’s judge Theresa May by her position on Brexit, and Melania Trump by the success of her anti-cyberbullying campaign (really?), not by their shoe leather.

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