Equal comfort at the office
EQUAL COMFORT IN THE OFFICE IS NO SMALL FEAT
(St. Louis _Post Dispatch_, Dec. 1, 1988)
On her walk to work the other day, a woman I know passed a man who also
appeared to be on his way to work. Like her, he carried a briefcase and wore
a business suit and a pair of running shoes, which enraged her.
"How dare they!" she fulminated, meaning all men everywhere. "Running shoes!?
They ALREADY get to wear comfortable shoes! It's SO unjust!"
The good news is that this is one injustice whose days appear to be numbered.
One of this year's strongest trends in the women's footwear business is --
saints be praised -- shoes that are comfortable to walk in and also look OK.
The fall ad for Calvin Klein Shoes showed a simple, elegant, high-heeled suede
pump and an equally simple and elegant flat-heeled suede pump: Take your
choice. Virtually all the Italian designer collections for spring were shown
with flat shoes.
A recent edition of the L.L. Bean catalog introduced a shoe that looked like a
classic ballet slipper set on a stylishily thick ,deeply treaded sole.
Rockport, a company that makes serious, clunky walking shoes, also makes a
line of casual shoes called Comforts that seem to be growing steadily less
clunky. . . .
You have to wonder why it took so long. Until you realize that it's only in
the past couple of decades that most women had needed shoes -- and, for that
matter, clothes -- that are both attractive and comfortable.
Men who worked in offices always needed to be comfortable and look respectable
at the same time. But most of our grandmothers didn't. They could scrub and
polish and wash and iron in any old thing. When they went out -- to dinner,
church or meetings of their women's clubs -- they could stand to dress like
ladies of leisure in corsets, hats and gloves, stockings and high heels.
With that schizoid background, it's no wonder women are still trying to figure
out what to wear to work. You can't go to the office in the loose cotton
housedresses, cozy old sweaters and rolled-down stockings that were grandma's
work clothes, any more than you can work eight or 10 hours in the "lady
clothes" she dressed up in to play bridge.
Pity the first "career women," who had to. They were a tiny minority and had
to look respectable, which meant corsets and hats and gloves and high-heels.
Now that virtually all women expect to work outside their homes for at least
part of their lives, working women are in the majority, and that makes a
difference. We no longer think that looking respectable means dressing as if
you never lift a finger. And the market is finally beginning to notice that
we need (and can pay for) reasonably attractive clothes that aren't a lot of
work to wear.
One of the small, tangible rewards of all the juggling working women have to
do, it turns out, is comfortable shoes to do it in.