Spectator Sport

What is it about cooler weather that, like a blast of chill water, washes all images of sandals and floaty sundresses from my mind? I’m instantly obsessed with all things buttoned up and crisp as Jonagold apples. I’m sure it has something to do with the innate back-to-school shopping instinct — which would also explain why I can’t get enough of the grown up version of saddle shoes: The spectator.

The two-toned dress shoes date back as far as the mid-1800s, but their irrepressible preppiness (the first pair were designed for playing Cricket) keeps them fresh. A stacked-heel pump is school teacher sexy with a clingy, kick-pleated skirt; the same shoe comes off as retro-chic with a silk polka-dot dress. They beg for graceful, wide-leg trousers a la Gwyneth Paltrow’s sleek portrayal of Marge in The Talented Mr. Ripley, while recalling WWII working girl cool. No nonsense, yet a far cry from functional drudgery.

I think of all of this while having coffee with a chic friend (her stylish is well-channeled into high end consignment boutique she owns) who announces, “My fall uniform is going to be skirts, tights, and spectators.” Turns out, we’ve both been panting over the same pairs in our neighborhood shoe store. She’s fixated on the classics – the swing era black-and-white iterations by Vince Callies and Via Spiga. My imagination is captured by the modern turns of Jeffrey Campbell (with ribbons laces and metallic leather) and the gothic schoolgirl sensibilities of Betsey Johnson’s “Tadum” Oxford.

I can’t seem to escape my back-to-school shopping instinct. Then again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Traditions don’t happen over night; they take careful cultivation and the test of time. So, once a thing — be it a shopping ritual or classic, feminine shoe — becomes a habit, it seems best to honor the institution. This fall, I’m thinking life might just be a spectator sport after all.


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October 2008
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