Kay: Step into This

Christian Louboutin. "Printz," Spring/Summer 2013. Courtesy of Christian Louboutin. Photograph: Jay Zukerkorn and displayed as part of the Brooklyn Museum "Killer Heels" exhibit.

Christian Louboutin. “Printz,” Spring/Summer 2013. Courtesy of Christian Louboutin. Photograph: Jay Zukerkorn. Displayed as part of the Brooklyn Museum “Killer Heels” exhibit.

Our characters move through an arc, changing as they resolve the conflicts, solve the problems, and overcome the challenges that they encounter. One way we can show character change is to show behavioral changes. When our heroine was thwarted in the beginning of the book, she ate a pint of chocolate-chocolate chip Häagen-Dazs. Halfway through the book, though, she’s grown, she’s matured. Now when she’s thwarted, she stomps out of the house. Progress!

Recently I realized that one way I show how characters change is that I change their clothing choices. In an earlier manuscript, I had a young woman ditch her overalls and steel-toed work boots for flowing palazzo pants and high heels when she’d fulfilled her arc. In my current WIP, my heroine goes from suits and high heels to a poodle skirt and saddle shoes, and then to the skinny jeans and ballet flats that outfit her new life.

So—one heroine goes from steel-toed boots to heels, and one goes from heels to ballet flats. What’s with the heels? I wondered. Besides that they’re consummate female attire.

Not so fast. High heels were standard footwear for sixteenth-century Persian horsemen. Then the style moved from Persia to Western Europe, where aristocrats embraced the footwear to set themselves apart from the lower-class workers. Louis XIV of France posed for a portrait wearing red-heeled shoes, but when Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor in 1804, he wore flats. The result was not just the end of monarchist rule in France, but of high-heeled male power dressing.

This information is included in a new exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum called Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe. The exhibit covers 500 years of high-heeled footwear, exploring the history of the shoes themselves, as well as the history of status, fantasy, innovation, beauty, and sex as told through shoes.

Did my heroines think about this when they either put on or kicked off their high-heeled shoes? You can bet your sweet Manolo Blahniks they did.

The amazing thing about people continuing to wear high heels is that they cause injury and pain. Long-term high heel wear can “compromise muscle efficiency” and “increase the risk of strain injuries.” The U.K.-based College of Podiatry found that most women’s feet start hurting after just one hour and six minutes of wearing stilettos. And one in three women walk home shoeless because of relentless throbbing. High heels are so uncomfortable that some bars and night clubs have vending machines that dispense flat shoes.

Despite that, more than half of the $38.5 billion spent annually on shoes in the United States goes to stilettos more than three inches high, according to the Wall St. Journal. Go figure.

My heroine who forsake overalls and steel-toed boots for high heels? They were a special pair, bought for her by a problematic male character (okay, my hero) who thought every woman should have at least one thing that was frivolous. She wore them on her way out the door. (But she came back later. Much later.)

My other heroine, who gave up heels for flats by way of saddle shoes—she’s a spy. And spies can’t go running after bad guys in heels.

What about you? Do your characters change their clothing choices as they grow and change?

10 thoughts on “Kay: Step into This

  1. Kay, it didn’t even take an hour and six minutes – my feet hurt just looking at that photo! I like to walk, so I’ve always worn flats, even when I had to wear a suit for work. Not so flattering, but I hate tottering around. Maybe for a wedding I might think about heels (or maybe not – what if there’s a great band and I can’t dance because my feet hurt?) I know I’m in the minority though, and I love to window-shop for great shoes I’d never buy.

    My heroine’s wardrobe choices don’t change, and that’s important to her. All her life she’s been under pressure from her family (mother and step-father in particular) to dress in a more mature or mainstream way, and she’s looking for a place she can be herself. So her clothes don’t change, she finds an environment where it doesn’t matter – and it’s not the one she expected. My hero’s clothing is very important – the clothes which represent his work/battle dress are very different from the ones he wears when he’s alone with his family. And then there’s his kilt, of course 🙂 His clothing choices say a lot.

    • Interesting that it’s your male character would have the important clothing choices! And I’m with you: heels, no can do. Although I bought a pair about a year ago, so I wonder what that says about me?

  2. I’m the opposite of Jilly. I’ve always been a big fan of high-heels, although not nearly as high as when I was younger. But those shoes in the exhibit are a bit to far out there – even for me.

    As for my characters, their clothing really hasn’t changed as they’ve changed. My heroine does make some clothing choices specifically to get our hero’s attention, but it’s not really a reflection of her growth. My hero generally dresses in an understated manner. Makes sense since he is spying and wants to remain unnoticed.

    Interesting idea though. Must think about it some more.

    • I looked at some of the shoes in the exhibit, and it’s hard to think that anyone would actually *wear* those shoes. They looked like they had to be for design purposes only. But I guess you never know.

  3. (-: I’m a very practical woman. I need a one-inch heel so my feet don’t hurt. I’ve been wearing orthopedic sandals with black socks since August, and I’m trying to figure out how to water proof them for winter (felt and thumbtacks into the sole?).

    Shoes are really one of those mirrors to the soul, at least in literary terms. Perhaps in real life terms, too. Everyone who can walk, does walk, and needs footwear to mirror his/her needs. When mate-attracting or “warrior-posing” needs exceed the need for comfort, one does some very strange things, indeed. And when the need for comfort exceeds everything else, one is forced to do some very ugly things to footwear (-:.

    I think I only have one character who morphs from bland to not-so-bland. Her antagonist is based on Eddie Izzard, the comedian who spent much of his mid-career in really fabulous clothing on stage. (He’s a transvestite.) His carefree lifestyle makes her loosen up a bit and live. Perhaps in later drafts, she’ll wear something flashier that she buys in Harajuku. But, I don’t like to make that kind of transformation front and center — the other transformation should be in front (in her case), and the new clothes/new hair should be just supporting adventures. Every story is different, though.

    Clothes really do show an inner change. It’s a good point to ask if their clothes haven’t changed, have they really changed? If the answer is yes, cool. If not, time to look at the character arc. Very thought-provoking! Thanks, Kay!

  4. I’m not sure if the clothes have to change—in fact, I noticed that my characters’ clothes changed only after I wrote two heroines. In those stories, the clothes did seem to mark the arc, so to speak. But I don’t think that has to be the case. And like you, I’m all about the comfort. If my personal arc has changed over the years, it’s that comfort gets a higher priority.

    • No, I don’t think the clothes *have* to change, either. I can’t see it happening for Bunny, because her clothes are very much about her work and her place in society. I’m just saying if they don’t change, it might be worthwhile to look a little deeper and find out just where that transformation takes place.

      I’m terrible at character arcs. I’m a series of things happening, hopefully full of interest and edifying so that you stick with me. I intellectually understand the importance of a character arc, but I have a lot of problem picking it out, or boosting up the curve of the character arc in my own work.

      Other markers: does the protag’s community change? Does the house change? I wonder what else . . . . I’m sure there can be a change that is purely internal and only marked by a change of actions, but most writers subconsciously include some sort of external marker to show that a change has taken place.

  5. It’s so funny that you’d post this now. Just a few days ago, I added a description of my protag’s outfit in the final scene to contrast with what she’s wearing in the first scene, to help bolster the outward representation of the ways she’d changed. There are also a few tweaks to the way she dresses throughout the course of the story.

    As for high heels, you’ll rarely see me without them outside of my house, even if it’s just a 2-inch heeled boot. And then if you see me inside my house (usually in my fuzzy socks), you’ll marvel at how damn short I actually am! It turns out I don’t even own flats other than my sneakers, which I realized recently when I tried to pack flats for the NJRW conference. So I packed my sneakers, but still ended up wearing them only when I went to the hotel gym.

  6. Once I had kids, I went practical. Now it’s flip-flops (my favorite) or Sketchers. And BOBs. I’ve just discovered them. I hate wearing hells (oops, heels!) now. They’re just too uncomfortable. At 5′ 10″, I also don’t need them.

  7. Ha! Lilith actually talks Dara into buying slutty shoes–strappy stiettos. It’s a metaphor for how Dara is being compromised by demons.Which makes sense because high heels are clearly the work of the devil.

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