Book Review: Footnotes: On Shoes

It isn’t hard to find books on shoes. Whether they are designer monographs or historical “greatest hits”, all are filled with juicy pictures of footwear from the mundane to the avant-garde. But I had never attempted to find a solid academic resource on shoes, and I approached Footnotes with some trepidation. I was worried that, like so much of the literature on accessories, it would be complete fluff, or simply apply well-wrought concepts from fashion theory to shoes. (What can I say, I’m judgmental.) I can now take pleasure in the fact that I was wrong.

Footnotes is a valuable collection of essays on shoes uniting perspectives from disparate scholarly backgrounds. The selections address historical and contemporary topics, detailing the specific importance of shoes in the context of museums, art, literature, gender, and cultural identities.

Maureen Turim’s “High Angels on Shoes: Cinema, Gender, and Footwear” is a valuable model for anyone in film studies looking to break down costume in a meaningful way. And although I’m not one to be drawn into arguments over whether shoes represent phallic or vaginal metaphors, this essay as well as Lorraine Gamman’s “Self Fashioning, Gender Display, and Sexy Girl Shoes: What’s at Stake – Female Fetishism or Narcissism” offer illuminating analyses and address concerns over womens’ identity and footwear.

There are 14 essays and, though not all are stellar, they all made me think. Each author is able to separate shoes from the general category of dress and use them as specific material evidence to make their points – and reinforce the idea that shoes have a unique way of communicating.

Edited by Shari Benstock and Suzanne Ferriss, Rutgers University Press, 2001
reviewed by Sonya Topolnisky (originally published in Worn Fashion Journal Issue 8.)

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