Shoes for Life

In New Orleans I bought purple suede shoes peppered with silver studs across the toes and, not surprisingly, in Nashville, I purchased blue suede pumps. I slid my feet, Cinderella-like, into their cushioned blue interiors, stood, took a few steps and twirled, the full skirt of my dress flaring. The clerk stared, only mildly startled and asked me “Are you an attorney?” Nashville lawyers, I thought, must be more colourful than the pin-striped, double-breasted esquires in Ottawa. In Dolly Parton’s home state, I pictured lawyers sashaying to the bench in untouchable blue suede shoes with matching satin pocket hankies. A spin at the bench seemed plausible.

My mother was a snappy dresser and I inherited her fondness for fashion. I studied photos of her from the early 1950’s, noting her big-city style before she married my father: peep toe high heels, fur collared jacket, below the knee pencil skirt, peplum jacket. And always ruby-red lipstick.

Emulating my mother, the first piece of clothing I bought for work was a bright red pencil skirt with a back kick-pleat. Even though the job was just for the summer and the skirt would later languish in my closet for 8 months when I went back to university, it made me feel grown up, like a real office worker. Or the office worker of my imagination, anyway. The reality was that summer I worked with mostly older women, whose colour palette was soothing shades of brown and cream, a popular combo in the 1970’s. I stood out like a yellow crocus in winter’s mulch. Even then, I had more in common with Dolly Parton and Nashville.

I hung on to those two pairs of shoes until a few years ago. My arches fell and they no longer fit, and my practical self said, “Give them away.” The purple ones were hard to let go because as I held them, I could taste the powdered sugar of hot Café du Monde beignets, hear the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and smell the industrial mud of the Mississippi River in December. I bought those shoes when I thought work was my purpose. I bought them before an infertility diagnosis and before my mother died. They were my younger, brighter self.

In preparation for retirement, I’ve cleaned out my closet. No high heels linger in the cupboard. Those went two years ago when the podiatrist wagged her finger at me and warned I’d walk myself crippled if I persisted with fashion over common sense. In their place are an assortment of comfortable flats, including some dark purple, suede oxfords, optimal for twirling with quirky knees and wonky hips. The slightly too tight skirts, dresses and jackets wait under the bed in bags to be donated or given to friends. All that remains are jeans, practical and classic black pants and skirt, and an assortment of blouses I’m not ready to part with yet.

I’m not sad about shedding these things. I knew I was ready to retire when I wasn’t excited about the nightly planning ritual of what to wear to work the next day. That wasn’t my only indicator, of course. Having to sedate myself every Sunday night with a hit of THC in edible gummy form was another hint. When the last spark of joy that work gave  – sprucing up and strutting out the door – left, I asked myself “Do I want to be the old doll everyone wishes would go away? Did I want to be the woman in clunky black orthopedic shoes gallumphing down the hall singing Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” off key?” No.

Although I didn’t know it was my last day in the office on March 12, I went out in style, wearing low-heeled blue indigo shoes. They sparkle, and I can still twirl, and that’s good.

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49 thoughts on “Shoes for Life

  1. Clearly you have excellent taste in shoes! I also have blue suede shoes and would like two more styles in blue suede.
    Congratulations on retirement and best wishes for whatever you do 🙂
    My workplace is fairly casual — within my version of casual, so I don’t have to wear unpleasant things most days. However, I have worked many places where getting dressed was a terrible chore 😦 I still think it’s stupid.

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    • I’m looking forward to collecting a whole new selection of retirement shoes – comfy, colourful and NO HEELS. In my former place of employment, there was a wide range of styles – from the jean clad, uber casual IT people to senior managers in suits. The rest of the plebs fell somewhere in the generous middle range but I just like clothes so I was always on the fancier end of the spectrum.

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  2. A girl has got to have her sparkle!

    It’s a right of passage for us to build that work wardrobe, and then tear it all down again when we retire. I agree that some pieces are harder to let go than others.

    … but I wish I knew about edibles when I was working. I could have used a little Sunday night attitude adjustment going back to work after the weekend – and maybe Friday night to shed the layer of despair from a week at work – and Monday would have been good too because … well, Monday.

    … then again, maybe it’s just as well I didn’t know about them 😉

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  3. You are a woman after my own heart. I have a pair of blue suede booties, indigo and teal suede oxfords with peacock feather inserts, camel suede booties with spiky gold stars on the heels….Of course, I haven’t been able to wear ANY of them since hiking boots gave me this neuroma on my foot last August. One of the upsides from this terrible situation we are in is that the enforced rest might dissolve the neuroma. And you got your shoes in NOLA. ❤

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    • I hope your neuroma clears up with this enforced rests, too, Ellen. So many lovely shoes not to be able to wear! Yes, that was a fun shopping spree in NOLA many years ago. Better days are ahead and we will wear our pretty shoes again.

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  4. You have talent for taking the reader, whirling and twirling and all smiles and frivolity alongside you – skipping, I was and then spinning a twist that is so levelling as to make your audience in their collective tracks. Your younger self, your self post diagnosis, your self realising that she needs to let go before she becomes that annoying weirdo that the youngers have to endure is so skilfully handled in your gifted hands as to be amusing and poignant all at once. Skilled you are. And I for one relish the prospect of much more from you now that you, undoubtedly have more time to devote to your craft (that last to be taken with a pinch of irony). Book, anyone?

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    • I see more writing in my future though I expect a period of adjustment in the coming months as I figure out how to structure the days. I’m hoping to revive this blog which has been on life support for more than a year as well as look at a bigger project that may well end in a book. Who knows? But I’m excited about the future. So many thanks for your wonderful encouragement, Fiona.

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  5. I have always loved cool shoes (and occasionally, cruel shoes). Perhaps because I had to wear so many ugly oxfords when I was a little girl. Nothing else fit my narrow feet. Beyond the joy of expressing your personal style, cool shoes carried you forth through your career, and those darling last day shoes will keep you dancing through your next phase. Congratulations!

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  6. Oh, yeah. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about. You rock the shoes – whatever color or glitz.
    You’ve paid your dues. You’ll never be the person anyone wishes would go away.
    Stay safe, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sheila, I do think timing is important when one retires. When I was younger, I recall working with older women who had completely given up and made themselves deliberately invisible, probably through exhaustion. I didn’t want to do that though I confess to feeling very tired of the work world and every day it got harder to engage and care about the silliness going on around me. When you’ve seen the cycle repeat itself, it does weary a body. Anyway, it’s all but over now and I can focus on things and people that nourish the soul and feed my mind, not just my bank account.

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  7. Had fun reading this post! It’s so funny the ways we ebb and flow through style choices. I can remember being so dedicated to wearing heels that I could actually run for buses in them! (Just thinking about it makes me wonder if that was really me😂!) You also made me remember a favorite pair of shoes that I owned circa 1989 or thereabouts: purple suede hush puppies! I did not save them to wear on special occasions but wore them as my everyday shoes! Until the soles were too runover, they were my “signature” footwear and parting with them was “such sweet sorrow💜.”

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    • Good day, Leslie! I used to schlep to and from work – about a mile each way – in heels so I feel your Achilles tendon with all that running for the bus in high heels. I love that young people these days are out there in pretty dresses and their sneakers. So sensible. Purple Hush Puppies? Oh, how I’d love a pair of those to make my feet happy.

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  8. I recommend retirement highly! These low heeled sparkly shoes are the perfect accompaniment into your retirement future. I LOVE my shoes – I have a fabulous collection of colourful boots and shoes – all of the flatter persuasion, all comfortable and all eye-poppers. Why not, when all else tones down, we can still dance – or at least tap our toes 🙂 Happy retirement!!

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  9. BRAVO Susanne BRAVO! Agreat piece of writing; funny, stylish and quintessentially you. Congratulations on your retirement -butmore to the point – where will you publish this? I know that CSFTS is looking for writing about being 60 plus – I’m sure they’d buy it and they pay. This is excellently written.

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    • Well, hellooo Joanne! So glad you were able to break through whatever barrier had been preventing you from commenting. Yes, I’m excited about impending retirement on Tuesday – woo hoo! – and more time to write and maybe even seek publication. What I’ve learned recently is I enjoy the process of writing and feel gratified when a piece I’ve crafted works. The external gratification of publication is nice, validating and all that, but I kind of think its a false god. There are so few opportunities to get work out thru the established media, be they lit mags or popular mags, and so often they pay zip, that I feel its kind of a waste of time. The benefit of working with an editor to help you polish your piece is so rare these days, I might as well publish here. People respond to the work which thrills me as much as any non-paying publication would. Really, the reason for writing, for me, is to be heard. And here, I’m heard.

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  10. Congratulations on your retirement! I love those shoes, Susanne. I’ll be purging the last of my high heeled shoes as I pack up my closet for moving. So many delightful low-heeled choices in shoes and boots these days. My heels will not be missed.

    Deb

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    • I don’t miss the heels one bit. I hung on to a pair of booties but every time I put them on at work they lasted exactly 30 seconds and back I went to my comfy flats.

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  11. This is a beautiful and fine tribute to your work life; celebrating what was—not diminishing it by any means—and moving forward with clear vision and evolution. An evolved soul. I love it. I read this out loud to my husband this morning. I’m so looking forward to what’s ahead for you. The future is bright. Sending you the joy of new frontiers to discover — May it be so.

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    • That’s me – an evolving soul. What’s the point of life otherwise, eh? The future IS astonishingly bright which seems an odd thing to say given the state of things as I write but I do feel excited about this next chapter and that in itself is amazing. Thanks for reading AND sharing with your husband.

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