Adventure in a shoebox

Chalk it up to Spring fever; I’ve taken to window shopping not just in boutique windows and catalogs but also in restaurants, in line at the bank and while watching movies.

My current favorite is the 2006 film version of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, in which Naomi Watts manages to look enviably chic in drop-waist shifts despite the mud and heat of rural China. Set in the 1920s, during a cholera epidemic, the film is lushly romantic, set against a sweeping backdrop of green mountains and rushing rivers. It’s a compelling story, too, but I was hooked from the opening scene, when Watts’ character (the charmingly self-centered Kitty Fane) sat on the side of the road, perched on her steamer trunk, and impatiently tapped her Oxford flats in a puddle.

Those shoes! So school-girl practical and yet so crisply buttoned-up in a Passage to India way. After all, those 19th and 20th century colonizing-obsessed Brits had a way with dressing for every occasions, no matter how humid, muddy or mosquito-infested the climes.

Not to sound like my grandmother (who, by the way, never actually uttered the words I’m about to write), but people just don’t dress anymore. It’s all tracksuits and slip-on shoes for every jet-set locale; every romantic adventure. As The Painted Veil culminated in an orchestral swell, I consoled myself with one last glimpse of Kitty Fane’s timeless footwear and switched off the DVD.

The very next day, an Urban Outfitter’s catalog found its way into my mailbox and, because the cover image was shot in lush, exotic India, I immediately flipped through. And what to my wondering eyes should appear? Summer-perfect oxfords! Available in subdued shades of gray and cream, these airy lace-ups are ready-made for embarking on voyages, traipsing down cobbled streets and stamping at a puddle or two.

Now, to find a drop-waist shift and a steamer trunk …

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