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?