- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2006

Behold the woman who is truly “sole-searching.” Her face assumes a series of telltale expressions: rapt concentration, astonishment, joy. Her movements go from dreamlike to predatory to possibly menacing as she hones in on the shoes o’ her dreams.

“Oh-h-h-h,” she breathes. “It’s a pair of peep-toed Manola Mazooma Pooters in bronzed suede with kitten heel, laser cutouts and a monk strap. Oh-h-h-h.”

Her fingers reach to touch the specimen in all its glory. She lapses into an alpha state, as the world — and maybe the entire known universe — revolves around this single event. She may faint. She is having a Shoe Moment.

If there is a man with her, he may faint, too, from alarm over the price of the shoe — and from the very act of feminine shoe shopping. It is almost as bad as a trip down the perfume aisle, in which the hapless gentleman companion will be alarmed and asphyxiated.

But here is the truth. A woman can have just as good a Shoe Moment in Payless as she can in Foot Candy, one of California’s most glorious dens of shoe iniquity, where the siren call of Jimmy Choo and Moschino bring out the Carrie Bradshaw in any woman. It is a wonder why Sarah Jessica Parker, the actress who played the shoe-worshipping girly-girl onHBO’s”Sex and the City,” only peddles perfume and hair dye rather than stilettos.

But then there would be a riot in Bloomingdale’s if young Sarah introduced her own line of shoes in time for Christmas. Men might get killed, traumatized or perhaps fall into a persistent vegetative state. There would be roadblocks in the lingerie department.

Come to think of it, maybe Condoleezza Rice should come out with a signature line of shoes. And there’s nothing to say the Department of Defense shouldn’t get in on the act. Camouflage wedgies in desert and woodland varieties would be ideal, thanks.

Someone should alert the World Shoe Association, which perhaps deserves a seat at the United Nations.

This California-based group hosts the world’s largest footwear show every year in Las Vegas, featuring the wares of 36,000 shoe dealers from 90 countries, and 6,000 brands. And just in case Miss Rice or Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld want to know: The group says “Bond Girl” shoes — as in “James Bond” — will be the next big thing, along with “high-tech boots,” cone-shaped heels, laser-cut shoes and Byzantine brocade pumps.

Meanwhile, the subject of women and shoes has been elevated into an entire subculture. There are recent books such as “Why Men Gamble and Women Buy Shoes” or “Why Men Don’t Have a Clue and Women Always Need Shoes,” which use footwear as an allegory for the war between the sexes. Or not. Hyperion released “How to Walk in High Heels: The Girl’s Guide to Everything” in September, with shoes billed as a basic female icon.

Speaking of icons, shoes are also a religious experience, called “bootism,” at least according to waggish Manhattan writer Michael Duranko, who says that the motto of the bootist is, “There is always room for one more pair.” If there isn’t room, at least in the shoe, the Illinois-based American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society reports “an alarming trend” in cosmetic foot surgery to shorten toes, narrow insteps or inject collagen in the foot’s “fat pad” among women who pine to wear high heels.

Meanwhile, at least a half-dozen desk calendars feature women’s shoes, and there is a movement afoot among the nation’s crafting females to collect miniature shoes and display them like little trophies.

But on to the big trophies. (Men: Caution. Leave the room now).

The most expensive shoes on the planet, according to Forbes magazine — this year, anyway — cost $2,875 a pair and are made by Chanel from alligator and lambskin. They are black. They have round buckles. They have heels. Hurrah. The most expensive shoes on record are a pair of Stuart Weitzman Cinderella Slipper sandals with 565 diamonds, priced at $2 million.

But such amounts are dwarfed by the $17 billion that American women spend on “fashion footwear” each year as they seek Shoe Moments in the hushed aisles at Nordstrom or in the melee at DSW shoe warehouse, which typically displays 30,000 shoes at once.

Oh, and that is $17 billion, with a “b.” See, Mr. Rumsfeld? Add a shoe platoon, or maybe a whole shoe division. Think of all the F-22s and daisy cutters the DOD could procure once word got out that official DOD-brand utility cammie wedgies were available with matching BDUs, and maybe some cute hats. Like we said, there would be a riot in Bloomingdale’s.

And to those men wondering if it’s OK to come back into the room: The shoe association reports that global consumer interest in (ahem) men’s shoes is up by 100 percent in less than a year. There’s also a romance connection to consider. Relationship writer Don Diebel claims that women cast a critical eye on a man’s shoes and can be swayed for better or worse by the cut of a fellow’s footwear.

“They will judge you by the shoes you wear. If you really want to turn single women off, wear dirty sneakers,” Mr. Diebel says.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and peep-toes for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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