Politics of Fashion

These shoes were made for talking...

The recent controversy over Melania Trump’s stilettos is proof that footwear sends a powerful message

“When is a shoe not just a shoe?" asked fashion writer Vanessa Friedman in an article last week in The New York Times, answering her question: "When it becomes a symbol of what many see as the disconnect between the Trump administration and reality.” She was discussing the now infamous stilettos – a pair of snakeskin Manolo Blahniks – that Melania Trump chose to wear while traveling to Texas to visit areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

Melania Trump, Nicolas Sarkozy and Theresa May.
Melania Trump, Nicolas Sarkozy and Theresa May.INSTAGRAM (CORDON PRESS)

Melania, who appears to be as comfortable walking in 10-centimeter heels as in carpet slippers, does not consider comfort when choosing her shoes, but instead opts to make a fashion statement with each public appearance. But this time, her mastery of fashion has betrayed her. The general consensus was that the look was flawless for a night out, but not to visit the scene of a natural disaster.

The look itself was flawless for a night out, but not to visit a natural disaster

Anyone who holds a such a highly visible position uses their image as a communication tool, and while shoes may seem like a trivial detail, they are part of the process. One of the most notorious recent examples was British Prime Minister Theresa May, whose fondness for bold accessories led her to wear over-the-knee patent leather boots when she met Queen Elizabeth II. Her leopard print kitten heels landed here on the cover of various newspapers for the wrong reasons. The British press assumes that she uses shoes to emphasize the more fun and modern part of her personality, given her lack of charisma. She has acknowledged that her shoes serve as icebreakers and The Times went even further by suggesting that her inclination to wear British brands, such as Russell & Bromley or LK Bennett, was directly influenced by Brexit.

Nicola Sturgeon, her Scottish counterpart, also sends out an obvious message when she wears tartan shoes. Equally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her comfortable, worn-out shoes shouts “pragmatism.”

Brtish PM Theresa May makes a point of wearing distinctive footwear.
Brtish PM Theresa May makes a point of wearing distinctive footwear.INSTAGRAM

It is not just women who use shoes for more than just walking; the difference with their male colleagues is that they normally use them to rise a few inches above the ground, convinced that there is a direct relationship between statue and power. Silvio Berlusconi, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Vladimir Putin have all been accused of wearing lifts. Others like Florida Senator Marco Rubio do not bother camouflaging them. The republican is known for his cowboy-style boots with thick heels.

Ed Miliband, the former leader of the UK Labour Party preferred to send out a message of relatability and comfort by wearing traditional brand Clarks. Someone must have understood the message, as a pair of his used and signed shoes were auctioned on eBay for close to €300.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel puts comfort over style.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel puts comfort over style.CLEMENS BILAN (EFE)

And  of course, the more centimeters we gain from high heels, the shorter our partners look. To tackle this, Prince Charles would climb a step to look taller than Lady Diana in official photos. The problem of short, famous husbands and their taller wives meant Carla Bruni and Michelle Obama wore short heels or flats so as not to detract from Nicolas Sarkozy or Barack Obama. Queen Letizia, lover of sky-high heels, does not have that problem. King Felipe’s 1.97 meters leave her with plenty of margin.

English version by Debora Almeida

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