I have a pair of loafers with cat faces on them, so I'm used to others looking at my feet. But recently I experimented with a new way to get people to stare at them: 7-inch-high stripper shoes with slots in the platforms for money. The expressions on passengers' faces when I wore them recently on the subway in New York ranged from disapproval to confusion to sympathy. The consternation and puzzlement was akin to that elicited by street-style stars who wear completely ridiculous things to fashion week, like cutouts and stilettos when it's snowing outside.
In fact, my outfit wasn't that outlandish, as far as fashion goes. Often, what now passes as the most fashionable outfits are wonderfully flashy and odd. (See: Anna Dello Russo.) Lucite heels — aka clear shoes, aka stripper shoes — have been a runway trend for a few seasons. Their cousins, clear purses, are also rising in popularity, because fashion's never been about comfort, practicality, or logic — it's a celebration of the fabulous, the outrageous, the whimsical, the uncomfortable. So, would anyone — in the fashion capital of New York City, no less — really think I was that odd for wearing a bizarrely tall pair of clear shoes? Turns out, not really.
For my daylong stripper-shoe experiment, I decided on the "Tip Jar" by popular "exotic" footwear brand Pleaser. I purchased them on Shoebuy.com, but you will either be thrilled or horrified to know these are also found at Sears for the low price of $32. (I never knew I could rely on Sears for exotic dancing supplies, but apparently everyone else in the market did because they were out of every size except 12.) I would call them "Lucite," but that seems too fancy, so let's just go with "plastic." These seemingly sturdy platforms feature a handy money slot emblazoned with the word "TIPS" in glitter letters. (FYI, the slot accommodates bills as well as coins.) At the aforementioned 7 inches high, they were about 4.5 to 6 inches taller than I'm used to.
A few days after I ordered my heels, they came in the mail at work in a box that read "Pleaser: Sexier Than Ever." As soon as I got home, I strapped them to my feet and teetered around my apartment. Walking in these wasn't easy. Putting one foot in front of the other wasn't the issue; when I tried to stop walking I started to stumble forward. I could catch myself but I still felt like my body betrayed me. But for safety's sake, I put them back in their sexier-than-ever packaging for the night. If I was going to spend the next day in these, I needed to not hurt myself now.
The next day I woke feeling a slight sense of dread but still ready to wear the shoes in public for a full day. I paired them with modest black skinny jeans and a black tee. I didn't want to look like I was wearing a costume, just that I'd made an interesting shoe choice.
I knew that getting anywhere in my Pleasers was going to take extra time and planning. Making my way down the sidewalk in my Bushwick, Brooklyn, neighborhood, I realized for the first time just how uneven the pavement is. Rife with cracks and depressions, each step felt like I was lumbering toward the humiliation of eating it right there in front of the mixed crowd of hipsters and rambunctious teens. (Fortunately neither like mornings, so at least the streets weren't too crowded.)
I've never put much stock into strangers' opinions of the way I look. But in the sobering light of my 9 a.m. commute, I felt very embarrassed and slightly ashamed of my shoes. I put sunglasses on to avoid any judgmental eye contact with passengers on the subway.
My commute involves transferring to another train. When I arrived at the station where I catch my second train, the one I needed was about to pull away from the station. I had to decide whether I should take it slow and steady, or risk trying to quicken my pace. Before I could make up my mind, I took a step and came crashing down hard on my left kneecap. This resulted in the most painful and slow-to-heal bruise of my life.
I got up and scanned the faces of the passersby for any signs of concern. There were none (New Yorkers). As I was cursing the Pleasers, I noticed the cause of the crash by my foot: a single dill pickle slice and the slimy streak left as I hurtled toward my doom.
Once I exited the train, I had to walk another few blocks to the BuzzFeed office. I received an unsolicited compliment/warning from a young male stranger. "I like those shoes, miss," he said, trying to flirt with me, I think. "I hope they don't wear you out today." Too late, I thought, but instead I mumbled a polite but dismissive, "Thanks."
My workday in the Pleasers was mostly uneventful. After all, it's hard to hurt yourself when you sit at a desk and stare at a computer screen all day. At first, I felt embarrassed by the attention — or rather, the lack thereof — that I received. I got a few compliments from coworkers. I'm not sure if they were genuine or just wanted to show they noticed that yes, I was putting myself out there in a ridiculous pair of shoes. Because isn't that the appeal of fashion in the first place? To be noticed? Or at least be seen in a certain way? Anyway, if people asked about my shoes I could always just say, "Oh, I'm just wearing stripper shoes for a day for personal essay purposes. I actually don't leave work Friday nights to moonlight at The Lace Club."
As the day wore on I became more comfortable in the heels. Unfortunately, with an increase in self-esteem came a decrease in physical comfort. It didn't matter that the platforms were lined with surprisingly cushiony gel pads. If you're walking on plastic piggy banks attached to a stiletto heel all day, your feet are bound to ache.
After work, I met a friend for drinks at a local bar. I was once again dragging myself across the janky pavement, but this time highly anticipating the night's end when I could finally take the shoes off. My feet were starting to blister, making each step more unstable than the last. A small, middle-aged man noticed my struggle to walk but complimented my shoes. He asked where I was going and I motioned up a few blocks. He asked me if I was "a dancer," then offered me his arm for support — like a gentleman.
The dim lighting at the bar left my shoes mostly unnoticed, save for a few drunken compliments and one instance of falling flat on my ass while I attempted to demonstrate to my friend that I was, in fact, on a hip-hop dance team in high school. Note: Pleasers do not actually lend themselves to dancing. Shortly thereafter, I decided it was finally time to call it a night, so I limped back to my apartment, feet aching, but triumphant.
Overall, it had been a rather exhilarating day. I could see why Anna Dello Russo wears gold pineapples on her head and runs around just about anywhere in haute couture. Because it's sometimes fun to be noticed. It's fun to experiment with a persona and use fashion to slip into another character for a day.
Often when I wear unbearable shoes, I'll remove them prior to climbing the two flights of stairs to my door. But I committed to wearing these all day, and dammit, I was going to do exactly that. That said, as soon as I got to my place I flung myself onto the couch, where I sat, wearing the heels for a little while longer. They were like a bad boyfriend at this point — hard to break up with even when you know it's for the best. But I probably wasn't going to wear these shoes ever again — certainly not for any considerable length of time and certainly not on the subway where I have to hold onto a pole to keep my balance — so I enjoyed one last moment with them. As I reached down to take them off, contemplating how unusually well received they had been, my roommate walked in and blurted out, "Oh my god, those are amazing!"