11 January 2007

To show toe or not to show toe? (pt. I)

That is the question.

Determining appropriate wear-to-work footwear is a controversial, subjective science.

The variables not only include particulars of the shoe - heel height, color, material and style - but particulars of its wearer - job industry, choice of outfit and body type - as well.

Let me start with flats tonight (and continue with heels tomorrow), since they are a much less complex, much less volatile issue than their lankier counterparts.

It may not seem necessary to provide an operational definition of what a flat is, but since I've only recently been informed that "anything below a three-inch stiletto" is not an accurate description, I feel compelled to be specific. A flat, for the purposes of this analysis, is a shoe without a heel. A skimmer, a ballet slipper, a flip-flop -- these are all examples.

Now, clearly, a flip-flop or any other kind of summer sandal that wedges your first two toes apart or shows any side-skin is never okay to wear to the office. Not even in the elevator going up to your office. Walking to work, fine, I suppose, but even then, I tend to think we should have higher standards for ourselves as professional women with mid-to-high level incomes. For the rest of the flat styles out there, there are very few moves you can make that would result in a penalty flag (i.e. bitchy glances from female co-workers). The shoe shown above right (Youth flat by Pella Moda, $129.95 at zappos.com) is about as risky as you can get and still be in the professional green zone. The non-aggressive shade of cherry red is acceptable, but the peeptoe, for some women, especially women in DC, would disqualify this flat because it violates the staunch no-toe-at-any-time rule. An example of a perfectly acceptable style but oh-no color would be the gold-foil Minnie slingback flat by Stuart Weitzman above left ($215 at nordstrom.com). Super cute with skinny jeans and a cropped blazer at Paulo's in Georgetown for aperitifs, this shoe is just much too much flash-and-disco for a place with wall-to-wall carpeting. Even if paired with a completely muted ensemble, my answer to shiny metallics is still "no."
Surprising to some may be my assertion that wild-printed, loud-colored ballet flats are perfectly fine for an office setting. As with any other outfit component, though, if you choose to be vibrant in one area, you must temper that choice with restraint in every other area. If you wanted to wear these Tula zebra-print ballet flats ($159.95 at jcrew.com), for example, I'd say fine, go ahead, but make sure you're wearing black trousers (not a skirt -- showing their strappyness would be inappropriate), and a simple high-neckline top in either black, white, or red. The key word here is "simple" -- let the shoe and the shoe alone be your power source.

One final rule for flats involves your trouser cut. The beloved black and white tweed trousers that drape perfectly over your four-inch black round-toed pumps with bow-accents are not going to cooperate as nicely with a pair of black round-toed flats with bow-accents like those above left (Paleo patent leather flat by Ann Klein, $82.95 at zappos.com). So don't try to make them cooperate. You'll just end up shortening their lifespan by embedding the cuffs with city street debris and premature-fray. My advice is, if you find that magical pair of trousers that make your bottom look Bieltastic, buy two pairs and get one tailored to hit just right for flats. Problem solved.

Tomorrow, it's onto heels.

And more deep-knee-bend squats in the gym.

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