I have a confession to make.
For years, I’ve been having a love affair.
Yes, I’ve been having an affair… with high heel shoes. I love them. I love them the way some people love food or their pets.
Shoes have become such an important part of my life. Saying I am fond of them is an understatement. I love them so much that if any of my heels came up missing, I’d call the police, give them a description, and file a missing heels report.
If you check my closet, with its neat rows of conservative suits, you will see the shoe collection. It is amazing- a secret source of pride in my private world. I’ve bought at least as many pairs in the last two years as the number of times I’ve blown out candles on my birthday cake. I so relish my treasury of high heels that it had its own coup d’état years ago; my husband’s clothes had to find a home in another closet.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your view), I’m not alone in my fascination with shoes. Cinderella risked everything for her pair of glass slippers, Dorothy’s ruby red pumps were the source of her power, and Carrie Bradshaw conquered both love and New York City in Manolo Blanicks. And then, of course, there was Imelda Marcos.
I prided myself on wearing them even in the corridors of the Georgia Supreme Court when I was the chief justice there. I was often told that my high heels were legendary as they graced the floor beneath my judicial robe. I don’t know about legendary, but they were surely precedent setting when I became the first woman justice to serve on that court.
My intimate relationship with heels began when I was about 16 years old and donned my first pair. It was love at first sight. They elongated my legs, gave tone definition to my calves, and forced my shoulders back when I walked. The heels straightened out my spine, making me seem taller than I actually was. I felt marvelous! Even at that young age, I was learning how empowering femininity could be. The simple act of stepping into a pair of heels helped me step into the challenges of the career I had wanted since I was six years old. I wanted to be a lawyer, and I wanted to be a high-powered, high-heeled one.
I think my ideas about what attire is appropriate for a female attorney took shape from my father, a colonel in the army. Pride of uniform and the meticulous care he took with his uniforms was not lost on me. As with most little girls, I wanted my father to be proud of me, including my deportment as expressed in how I dressed. Coupled with the influence of the genteel society I knew during my growing up years in Savannah, Georgia, my roots for being feminine and successful have been my legal pas de deux throughout my years as an attorney and a judge.
Perhaps the shoes also took on greater meaning for me because of my chosen profession. In a career field dominated by men, with a stringent dress code (dark tailored suits when I was a practicing lawyer; a black robe when I was a judge), heels were the one object that could mark the difference between men and women. They made that statement without saying a word. Heels were my daily ally in a world where I often found myself the lone dissenting voice.
I generally feel better in my beloved heels, even when my feet are hurting. Once, when I was still a judge, another judge remarked that the flat shoes I was wearing “were sensible shoes.” I never wore those shoes again. And now, when I’m in court arguing a case as a lawyer, high heels give me the boost of confidence I need to win because they keep me on my toes by helping me stay sharp-both figuratively and literally. They provide me support and self-assurance not just as an attorney, but also as an attorney who is a woman. Considering that women did not gain wide entry into the legal profession until recent decades, that wonderful feeling of accomplishment silences any small pleadings of pain from down below.
I know, I know. I’ve been told repeatedly that the first thing a person notices on a woman is not her shoes. But what people don’t realize is that if the pumps she’s wearing makes her feel like a queen, everyone’s going to notice her because of the way she carries herself. And for a woman in this field, it takes that kind of queen-like feeling to survive, soar, and succeed. The poor princess in flat shoes is likely to fall flat when she encounters a high-heeled queen exuding confidence in a toeto-toe courtroom encounter.
This is something else I’ve discovered over the years: How I present myself makes a statement about who I am. My appearance brands me, sets me a notch (or a couple of inches) above, and cries out, “Here is a female who is rockingly feminine–and a powerhouse to boot!”
To a woman who deigns to pump up her legal career in a pair of high heel pumps, I give this advice: you will need to reinforce the mat on the driver’s side of your car if you haven’t already. Otherwise, you’ll eventually drill a hole with that stiletto on those long commutes. Commuter shoes (I wear flats or Uggs) might be another option, but have your heels nearby for any unexpected encounters. If you make it to the judge’s bench, as I did, you have to be careful about slipping your shoes off during court. You wouldn’t want to bump a shoe out of reach and have to search for it when all rise for the dignified departure from the courtroom judges have to make. That happened to me a couple of times, and I had to leave the bench shoeless. Nevertheless, the benefits of heels far outweigh these slight inconveniences.
Yes, I am well aware that many women pay a high physical price for taking high heels as sweethearts over the course of their professional lives. Podiatrists who counsel high heel lovers offer strategies to minimize the problems of this complicated lover’s quarrel. Risk management professionals might even have an algorithm for that. If so, that’s one formula I’d rather not know.
Perhaps that’s why I rationalize still wearing heels at my age with the belief that there is no magic age when a woman has to stop looking beautiful. We all have free license to wear our hair the way we want, wear the clothes we like, and wear our favorite shoes. Men may call this power dressing, but women know the subtle difference. Power dressing has as its goal a successful, quick climb to the top. Woman, on the other hand, know that success has to do with how you feel when you get to the top as much as it does in making it there. Heels or no heels, what’s important is that you find a way not to shed your feminine identity (if femininity is important to you) as you join the ranks of your male colleagues.
My shoe collection has grown with my age as well. So now, at 57 years old, it seems that some of my shoes have outlasted some of my body parts. And although I have days now when my back may want to give up the good fight, I can’t forget that in the 30 years or so that I worked like a dog to break down barriers in my profession, when things looked bleak, it was my heels who made me feel like Hermes, the Greek messenger god who the myth says rode the skies with wings on his feet.