Standing in front a long wooden table, I observe the items carefully lined up each next one another, and the people handling them to inspect their features and quality.
No, I’m not at an Apple store, but at Leffot in Christopher St., Manhattan, a shoe boutique for men.
Alan (my husband) and I decided to take a day off to do some shopping together – a rare treat, since we shop almost exclusively online. If you are into classic shoes, you know how hard it is to shop for them online, as it’s hard to know whether a last is going to fit you.
Right, the last. Before marrying Alan, and after a life dating dudes that spent their existence in beaten Converse, I had no idea what a last was. As a woman, I only knew two types of shoes: those that hurt, and those that don’t – with uncomfortable slim shoes winning in number.
Women, you know, have a weird relationship with shoes – a love/hate type of relationship. They love them, especially when it comes to Disney-esque, dreamy stilettos that make them feel like a princess. However, like any respectable love story, it is a troubled one. The most uncomfortable shoes – stilettos, open sandals, thigh-squeezing boots – are the most loved and appreciated, and at the same time the most uncomfortable. You’d think that, being part of a civilized species that always privileged comfort and practicality over struggle and torment, we’d stay away from torture tools that butcher our lower limbs.
Like Goethe’s moth, attracted to the deadly flame, women are condemned to gravitate towards painful footwear, or else suffer social alienation and live miserably but comfortably in a pair of UGGs.
Alan snaps his fingers in front of my face, interrupting my thoughts.
“Hey, you there? What do you think of these?”
He points his finger to a pair of oxford shoes in brown suede that are lying on the wooden table.
The voice is not mine, but Lorenzo’s, the sale assistant that has been helping Alan trying on shoes for the past 20 minutes. “Let me fetch them for you!”
Lorenzo disappears behind a curtain and comes back with a pair of the same shoes in size 8.5 placed on a red, plushy pillow. Seriously? A pillow? What are these, the Crown Jewels?
Before handing them over to Alan, he brushes them with expert hands to revive the look of the suede. His hands move so fast that you can barely see them. In fact, he polishes the shoes so vigorously that I wonder if he expects a genie to come out of them.
Alan carefully slips into the shoes with the help of a shoehorn. I thought shoehorns disappeared at the end of 19th century, along with sun umbrellas and monocles, but I was clearly wrong.
Looking at the two men in front of me, it is clear how the evolution of mankind has changed the reasons why men bend: they no longer bend forward to grow and harvest crop, to work the earth with their naked hands. They bend on expensive Persian rugs to inspect the fit of ridiculously expensive, handmade shoes that are at the very top of the pyramid of superfluous things.
A sudden movement interrupts my musings. Alan stands up to walk a few, confident steps wearing the suede Oxfords while the sale assistant leaves us for a moment to go fetch some suede conditioner.
My husband gives a furtive look around to make sure nobody is looking at him – beside me – and then he slowly starts bending his ankles in a low-squat position.
Oh my god.
“Ari, come here”, he whispers, encouraging me to get closer with a gesture of the hand.
I reluctantly walk towards him, who is now bouncing on his squat position with his arms reaching forward.
“What are you doing?” I ask, uncertain whether I actually want to know the answer.
“I’m checking that the in-step is high enough to accommodate my ankle”, he replies, candidly.
“Does it fit?”
“I don’t know yet.”
Alan steps the right leg forward, bending the front knee and straightening the left leg. I nervously look around, worried that somebody is going to record this on video and upload it on YouTube. “Ashtanga yoga at a high-end shoe boutique in Manhattan.”
“For the love of God, do you really have to do this? Can’t you just walk around like normal people?”
“I can’t. You know that.”
He hands me his phone to show me a thread on Styleforum: How should a shoe fit?
Fine. At least it’s comforting to know that there are other nutjobs out there performing Warrior II in order to understand if their shoes fit properly.
“Does it crease in the right spot?” my husband asks, panting.
I lift my eyes off the phone and gasp. Alan is standing on his tiptoes, his face as red as a tomato in the effort of not losing balance.
“What…Alan, please! They’re watching us!” I whisper anxiously, noticing that a couple of customers are staring at us in dismay.
“Just…tell me…”, he wheezes, reaching to the toe box in one last, extreme endeavor to understand if it creases in the right spot.
“Yes…YES!” I shriek, praying he’ll quit the ballerina move.
Alan collapses on one of the giant leather chairs and grabs a glass of wine that the sale assistant generously poured for him when we entered the shop. He looks satisfied, and I sigh in relief. The sooner we leave this store, the sooner I can reward myself with some make-up from Sephora.
“Oh, there you are”, says Alan, smiling at the sale representative carrying a few pots of leather cream. “I think I’m ready to pull the trigger on these. Toe box creases just where it should, and the instep fits like a glove.”
He raises the glass and winks at me.
Ah, look at him now. Acting all Steve McQueen, when just a moment ago he was walking on his tip toes like Laurie Hernandez in Dancing With the Stars.
Well, at least it’s done. He has his shoes. Sephora, here I come!
“Excellent, sir”, replies Lorenzo, brushing off some invisible particles of dust from the shoes, and I smile radiant, offering him my hand as to say “It’s been a pleasure. Goodbye!”
He deliberately ignores me and asks Alan: “Would you like to go through the leather book now?”
Wait, what? The leather book?
Alan nods enthusiastically and the sale assistant leaves again.
I must look devastated because Alan bursts into laughs and kisses me on the forehead.
“Don’t worry – it’ll be a minute. And this is the fun part! You gotta help me choose the color!”
“But…didn’t you just try on a pair of shoes? That fits? What’s wrong with them?”
I am confused and I’m not even trying to hide it. It is frustrating enough to see how men take the fit of their shoes seriously, instead of suffering like us women and carrying a packet of Compeed, and now this.
“These are made-to-order, honey. You’ll see. Ah, nice!” his face lights up when Lorenzo comes back carrying a huge volume that looks like a grimoire from Hogwarts.
Lorenzo opens it, slow and ceremonial, and despite my frustration I find myself peeking inside. What will the book reveal? From the way it looks, I wonder if it contains a series of spells to summon shoes out of the closet, or socks out of the washing machine (now, that would be useful).
“What are you laughing about?” Alan gives me a weird look and I hide my grin.
“Here it is,” Lorenzo announces theatrically. “The suede page.”
Both Alan and I lean towards the book and I hold my breath.
Well. I can’t say I’m impressed. The two pages feature a couple dozens of small leather rectangles, meticulously glued to the thin, cream color paper.
“Outstanding,” Alan comments, his tone reverential. He takes the book out of Lorenzo’s hands and points at three pieces of leather on top of the page.
“Which one do you prefer?” he asks me.
“Between brown, brown, and…brown?” I squeeze my eyes in the attempt to capture the difference between the colors, but they all look like pieces of jerky to me.
“These are snuff, fawn, and clay.” I wonder how he can be this savvy about different colors of leather, but when I ask him to bring me the shampoo in the shower he comes back with the conditioner.
“You’re not helpful at all” he scoffs, and I feel outraged. How dare he say I’m not helpful?
“If I may interrupt, sir…” Lorenzo is pointing at the fawn leather and I shoo his hand away. I’ll show him.
“Get the snuff,” I say. “You’d wear these mostly with jeans, and the orange hue is complementary to denim blue. Because the color is warm, it would go well with both your winter and summer wardrobe, especially with green and blue, which you tend to wear more often.”
They both look at me in awe and nod vigorously.
“Since when do you speak CM?” Alan jokes, taking out his wallet.
“Since I bookmarked Styleforum on the phone and started browsing it while you’re not watching.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too. Now let me take advantage of your remarkable understanding of colors: I need a foundation with a cool undertone.”
All photos courtesy Leffot