Feb. 27, 2017
An intensely anthropological take on fashion, style, and gender bending trends
Oct. 08, 2016
With its rock-studded confections Valentino rubbed the Aladdins lamp
My first introduction to pointy flats came in 2008. They were part of a Scheherazade-like story that a friend of mine is notorious for. That time she was describing a cozy get together at a stylish Northern California abode where she had been invited on a hot, summer afternoon. A great aesthete with a masterful hand in gardening, cooking, kitchen organizing, party throwing, table and flower arranging, clothes construction, and styling, my friend spoke in great admiration of the delicate refreshments served, of the subtle interior details, the flow of conversation, and what the hostess, a tall, stately woman, was wearing. She wore a linen mid-calf sheath dress with side slits paired with pointy flats. My friend, whose keen eye is used to dissecting all things beautiful, established immediately that the hostess’ shoe size must have been 11 and yet, she made an observation, the exaggerated pointy flats did not emphasize her big foot, instead they gracefully elevated her simple linen dress. She looked both comfortable and composed and enjoyed hosting her guests on a painfully hot afternoon.
For years to come an image of this woman, refined and laid back at the same time, played in the back of my mind as if I had attended that party myself. Hence, five years later, in May of 2013, when I quickly raided a Palo Alto Nordstrom for a pair of socks and emerged from the store with a red Valentino shoebox and an $800+ receipt instead, I should have immediately known why. But I did not. I stood quietly in the parking lot, listening to the sound of my heartbeat thinking about what I had just done. This was my first pair of shoes of such caliber. Pointy, studded Valentino ballerina flats in fuchsia. Now, admit it, doesn’t it feel like they have been around forever? But, no, it has only been three years. SS 2013 is the season they entered our realm.
At first I attributed my obnoxious impulse buy to my admiration of the documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) which I must have watched 500 times. At first it wasn’t so much about Valentino himself, but rather the outstanding qualities of Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary: unfiltered, raw, genuine, and intense investment in his subject. Everything a good documentary should be. I used to say, and I still believe it, that in a couple of decades this movie will prove not only a fascinating story of a great eccentric, but also an important account of the times, as significant as Battleship Potemkin. I remember people looking at me as if I were crazy. None of the fashion documentaries that followed Tyrnauer’s Valentino came anywhere close to it in terms of cinematographic craftsmanship and artistic value (Bill Cunningham New York (2010) being the only exclusion). I remember watching The September Issue (2009) in the theater when it was released. I managed to power through the highly controlled chronicles, air-brushed by their subjects, but my stylist friend fell asleep. As we drove back from San Francisco I lured her to my place with the promise of what a real fashion movie should look like. After our movie-going fiasco and a 50 minute ride home, she stayed glued to the screen for another 90 minutes. As the number of Valentino converts among my friends grew, so did designer’s and his right hand, Giancarlo’s personalities grow on me. These were all the things going through my mind as I stood in a parking lot with the Valentino rock-stud pointy flats and an $800 plus 8.25% California tax receipt listening to the sound of my heartbeat. Curiously enough, Valentino was filmed in 2008, the same year I first enjoyed pointy flats vicariously through my friend’s story. I am guilty of noting, collecting, and succumbing to mysterious coincidences like this.
I decided I’d sleep on it. I quietly put my Valentino shoebox in the closet, stuck the receipt inside, and left for Paris, missing out on all the early-adopter laurels. When I opened the box upon my return, the guilt about my cinematography-tribute impulse buy waned, but I still did not connect the dots. That happened during an outing with our kids.
Having children back-to-back, with a start-up building husband, and a stylist career, I literally stumbled upon meant we had neither time nor energy nor resources to go out much. With two nannies covering all the working hours, our social life boiled down to Sunday brunches at Rosewood. Our eighteen-month and three year old could move freely around the lounge area while we silently munched on tuna nicoise salad, staring at the views across the 280 freeway.This was supposed to feed my longing for glamour, away from child rearing and working at my home office. Naturally, I dressed up. I felt like a caricature of “Sunday best” but kept dressing up just to keep my sanity. And this is exactly where and when I had my Eureka moment. Happy to finally fit into the New Look, mid-calf skirt I bought in Milan the same year, 2008, woohoo!) I slipped into my new Valentino flats and unleashed their magic powers: they freed me from the tyranny of heels. There I was, in a fancy place with two tykes, one still in diapers, with Valentino studded flats making me look relaxed and composed. Just like the mysterious lady from my friend’s story who had quietly occupied the back of my mind all these years. That is when I finally understood that what I had deemed an impulse buy was stylist intuition.
That summer, Garance had immortalized them with her illustrations and they graced the feet of all the fashion mighty. Then they embarked on the inevitable descending curve of making it into the lists of “must-have-items” for anyone who needed to get their foot in the street fashion spotlight. The next summer, 2014, was marked with counterfeits. But the 2014-2015 seasons also proved the trend was not skin deep: the industry erupted with numerous versions of pointy styles in brogues and moccasins alike, even stepping into athleisure and offering pointy sneakers and slip-ons.
I watched my native Russian fashion scene warm up to pointy flats slowly. The trend went viral in the summer of 2015, two years after the shoes paraded through major fashion capitals. I attribute this delay partly to the fact that the last bit pointy-toe shoe moment happened in the 1990s. It coincided with the post-Soviet era when economical decay and sudden exposure to Western culture swept the traditional values-based Russian society off its feet. Add extreme weather conditions, which deprive Russians of the European nonchalance, and the pointy shoes trend of the 1990s translated into the epitome of the post-Soviet fashion monstrosity. More than twenty years later, some still found themselves struggling with pointy toe PTSD.
In my admiration for pointy flats I can sometimes get carried away and this is when my readers’ questions serve as a reality check. Below are some of the frequent questions I encounter when musing about pointy flats on Instagram or the Russian part of the blog.
Exaggerated pointy shoes only work on small, beautiful feet. I have 40+ shoe size, they don’t work for me.
This question never ceases to pop up every single time pointy flats are mentioned. Please refer to the opening paragraph of this write up to learn how only the most sophisticated eye used to daily dissection of beauty anatomy is able to notice how big your feet actually are. Providing you’ve mastered your entire look, that is. If you did and then you happened to cross paths with such an arbiter elegantiae, they would only applaud your shrewdness.
One of the big mistakes women make is assessing an item close up. You have to see everything from a big mirror perspective. If you are trying on sun glasses, step away from that counter and head to the bag department to see in the full length mirror how those glasses fit with your posture. If you are trying on your pointed flats don’t stare at your feet like an egret. Step away and check to see how they work with your facial bone structure and hair. I wear size 9 to 10 shoes too and there are shoes that grace my feet better than Valentino studded flats. But they can do nothing for me when I require a certain look: comfortable and composed. Once I get the look I aim for, the fact that pointed toe flats accentuate my shoe-size becomes inferior. They end up giving more than taking. Personal style is a system of checks and balances. Keeping this in mind helps you keep your sanity.
Pointy flat shoes require great ankles. My ankles are not svelte enough.
If you treat pointy flats as a trendy ‘Must-Have’ item, then yes, ankles are more important. But if you look at them as a heel-tyranny liberating technique then priorities change. This question mimics the shoe size situation. If you stare at chunky ankles in pointed flats, you might not find it a pretty sight, but that is not a reason to give up on them. Once you master your entire look, then the big mirror consulted from a couple of feet away may suggest that pointy flats give your beauty more than they take away.
To disguise chunky ankles opt for pumps with square cleavage. It’s the rounded shape that accentuates cankles.
Also try shoes with an oversized square buckle. Think Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour and Roger Vivier pumps. A square buckle is a true gentleman. It gracefully drives attention away from chunky ankles, but still has a lot to give to the svelte ones. It also makes pointy flats look better with opaque tights for colder weather.
I can’t do pointy flats; I am 5’2”. I need at least a little heel.
No matter how many times I repeat that pointy flats act like heels, I still receive a comment like this. Of course there is a limit to their lifting magic powers, and it is proportionate to your height. I would say that a 5’6” woman can simulate up to two inches with the pointy toe flats, while a 5’2” woman will get about an inch. But pointy flats are a much more versatile and edgy way to get that extra inch than the “a little heel” palliative.
Secondly, a lot depends on the situation. I am 5’6” and I have looks that work equally well with pointed flats and heels. I alternate depending on the situation. Where am I going? How many people will be there? Who are they? What’s the ambience? What is my role? How do I feel today? – These are some of the questions I’ll quickly go through while putting mascara on and deciding whether heels or pointed flats are better on a given day. A 5’2” will have to ask all the same questions and decide whether heels or pointy flats are better for her that day. An average 5’6” will have a wider range of choices than a 5’2”, but 5’2” still enjoys choices. Choices are important.
If you are heading to a bar or you have a business meeting then you might need all the support heels can offer. Delegate your comfort component to Uber or whatnot. But if you are on a date that includes a long evening walk to the fortress in Tuscany with dinner to follow or you are presenting venues to clients in New York, then comfort becomes a key element of your entire image, whether you are 5’6” or 5’2”. Sipping drinks at the bar or having dinner at the table may vary tremendously in their dynamics. And so do business meetings in a conference room or outside of it. Everything, sounds, smells, landscape, and format of your interactions, go into consideration of what to wear any given day. Just remember that being comfortable and composed must always remain on your list of options.
Do pointy flats work for everyone? Are there particular body types they work best for?
Pointy flats can serve as a magic stick if you are facing a heels and comfort dichotomy. Yet, with such rigid prerequisites as “mastering the look” and “getting a grasp on the situation” they can become a gargantuan task, however worthy, but still unfit for your immediate to-do list.
I don’t think I can talk about applicability of pointy toe flats in terms of body type, because there are just too many variables. But I can to break it down for my Siren/Amazon beauty type methodology.
The woman who will mostly benefit from pointy flats is the one feeling like a heel hostage. She often times clamors for ladylike dresses and skirts but never buys them because she thinks they require heels, which are not an option. Or she may actually keep such pieces in her wardrobe for years, unworn because she finds it hard to part with them. This is a typical situation for a Siren beauty type. Childbearing hips are usually a ticket into this beauty profile. Most winning Siren outfits consist of a “Schatzberg length” pencil skirt or an artfully tailored dress. These are precisely the items that are believed to require heels. But once you own pointy-toe flats that requirement is waived. This is the way for Sirens to enjoy their inherent lady-like styles without compromising on comfort. Pointy-toe flats can also help appease some earthy cropped jeans with the inherently elegant lines of a Siren’s physique. I would be careful about engaging pointy-toe flats in any “Millennial length” or shorter skirts, shorts, or casual maxis as all these typically need sportier shoes.
Amazons are typically in need of ways to subtly elevate their earthy looks just so their inherently fresh and natural beauty doesn’t look stuffy.
They may feel trapped in their casual, laid-back clothes, unable to bring in glitz and glamour to enhance their beauty. Heels may look like overdoing it or may not be an option for other reasons. This is when pointy flats step in to elevate an otherwise casual look and suddenly make it appropriate for the most glamorous setting and making it all look like the most gutsy “rules breaking” sartorial stance. Shirt dresses, shifts, “Millennium lengths,” and shorts may also enjoy the company of pointy flats on an Amazon woman.
What I wouldn’t do if I were an Amazon is pair pointy flats with the traditional lady-like outfits as this would risk making them seriously stuffy. Wrapping lady-like inspired clothes around an Amazon beauty usually goes hand in hand with Birkenstock, combat, and other gender-bending shoe choices.
I have been a vocal pointy-toe flats advocate since 2013 (and a silent one since 2008) and intend to continue serving as one. Not everyone needs pointy flats, but there are some of us out there who depend on them immensely. Their biggest virtue is liberating us from the tyranny of heels. The exaggerated pointy toe flats take upon themselves all the duties of the heel: they elongate the leg, elevate your looks, and, if your body morphology includes the child-bearing hips, then a good pair of pointy flats is as important as a good bra for a C+ cup. They provide that lift traditionally deemed to be a task exclusively performed by stilettos. I find pointy flats’ visual reference to ballerinas’ feet at rest unbearably touching and gracefully subdued. The visual association is strong enough to evoke the fierceness of en pointe (something almond and round toe flats lack), yet it is not the en pointe itself, rather the sweet anticipation of it.
One of my biggest fears is to open my Instagram or fashion news feed one morning to see the signs, or, God forbid, fashion autocrats official statements that the pointy-toe is passé. I know this phase is inevitable. But I hope it will be brief. While it may be just another passing trend for the fashion-pack transported around megalopolises in limos, it is a staple for working women and moms, way more important than a LBD.
Feb. 27, 2017
An intensely anthropological take on fashion, style, and gender bending trends