As our bodies change and our feet get less forgiving, do we have to give in to boring when it comes to shoes? Not according to these stylish older women. Stars of the films “Fabulous Fashionistas” and “Advanced Style, the Documentary,” they’ve found a way to make a statement with footwear while caring for bunions and minding their balance.
Their message for women who are looking to make their own style statement without crying over their feet: Comfort comes first – but if you’re creative, you can find shoes that match your personality and sense of style. Don’t give in. As Idiosyncratic Fashionista and Advanced Styler Valerie told us: “If we want change in the industry, we have to put our foot down, so to speak.”
Their message to shoe designers? There’s a market out there – start designing interesting shoes that are comfortable, too. And let us consult.
Jean, Idiosyncratic Fashionista
What do you call your personal style “Goth meets Sunset Boulevard!”
Jean’s feet After years of classical ballet and toe dancing, I had torn many tendons and as I got older, stability became an issue. About eight years ago, I had total foot reconstruction, first on the left foot and then on the right. They are still unattractive, but they are stable and are my investment in my future. Getting around is a big priority.
Signature shoes I love platform shoes, but most of the current styles are platform sky-high stilettos. The tall, flat platform shoes like those by Prada and Marni are too expensive to justify. Since I couldn’t find a flat platform shoe that fit my foot and since I wear clogs, I created my own Franken-clog. (see photo)
What do your shoes say? “I’m not dead and I am not invisible.”
Other shoe choices For working out and animal rescue (I volunteer at a local shelter): black Reebok trainers. For parties: black Jeffrey Campbell black and white striped platform lace-up boots or Trippen black platform boots with soles that look like Japanese getas.
20 or 30 years ago… In the 1970s, I wore high platform shoes. In the 1980s I wore high-heeled pumps and high-heeled short booties. In the 1990s, I wore flat platform shoes, cowboy boots and clogs. High heels were hard to part with. While I would not necessarily wear them now, it does bother me that I can’t wear them, even for photo shoots, without intense pain.
Shoe idol Gloria Swanson. Although she had an incredibly tiny foot, she wore amazing shoes. In “Sunset Boulevard,” when she’s lounging by her pool talking to William Holden, she’s wearing a leopard bathing costume and tiny leopard platform sandals that are to die for.
Shoe cravings? Constantly! Calvin Klein, Marni, Prada, Robert Clergerie all make tall, flat platform sandals and shoes that make me swoon – as do their price tags.
How much would you spend on a pair of shoes? These days, I would never pay more than $200 for a pair of shoes, and that’s the upper limit. In New York, if you shop the discount stores and consignment shops, you can snag some beautiful footwear.
What would make you sacrifice comfort? At this point in my life, nothing could make me sacrifice comfort. I can’t get out the door in shoes that hurt my feet.
Message for designers? I’d like to influence shoe designers to pay more attention to “women of a certain age” and our wants and needs. I would like to design shoes, especially a line of clogs with colored uppers and matching platforms.
Message for women Don’t give up and if all else fails, customize your shoes. Find an adventurous shoe repair guy or gal and take them a pair of leather shoes that you’d like to customize and see what your options are. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up!
“I customized a pair of black Dansko clogs with a black and white ripple sole. It not only gives me height but also cushioned comfort. I took a pair of black Danskos to the East Village shoe repair shop that used to add the high platforms to punk rockers’ boots and drew a design for the guy. Total success!” —Jean
Jean Woods, Fabulous Fashionista
What do you call your personal style “Edgy.”
Favorite shoes Doc Martin boots and Beetle Crushers. I’ve worn Doc shoes or boots for 20 years.
Beetle Crushers – on Amazon UK, 12.99-19.99
Other shoes New Balance for running.
Shoe cravings PRADA! I love how they are always so cool and ahead of everyone else in style – but out of my price range.
Personal shoe no-nos I won’t wear anything that’s not chunky.
How much would you spend on a pair of shoes? £150 ( $250)
Got any funny shoe stories? Well, it wasn’t funny at the time. There was a pair of shiny, bright orange Doc Martin boots for sale. I picked one shoe up and a lady picked up the other one. Neither of us would give in so we tossed a coin for them. I LOST!
Jean’s tips for you Comfort first – and don’t be afraid to be a bit wacky.
Debra Rapoport, Advanced Styler
What do you call your personal style? “Eclectic”
Favorite shoes In colors and definitely try to be a little bit unusual.
Shoe idol Tilda Swinton is the only person whose style I admire and always look at. I think she’s amazing. She’ll only wear what she likes, she doesn’t follow trends… and she always looks stunning.
Shoe cravings? There’s a brand of shoe called Remix Vintage in Los Angeles and all their shoes are gorgeous because their style is from the ’30s and ‘40s, they are comfortable, they are elegant and they are always in unusual color combinations.
How much would you spend on a pair of shoes? I am lucky enough that I find shoes in thrift shops that are brand new and they are anywhere from $7 to $25.
Shoe no-nos Narrow toes because I have wide feet and bunions. The bunions don’t hurt, but I just can’t fit into narrow, pointy shoes. And stilettos because I think women look like they are crippled in them and they look too vulnerable, so I don’t think they really look sexy.
Any funny shoe stories? Back in the ‘70s, I bought a fabulous pair of chartreuse suede shoes in Greece. I wore them to death. And then, when I couldn’t wear them any more, I didn’t want to give them away so I papier-mâchéd them. And then I just kept them for a very long time as a papier-mâché object.
Debra’s tips If you have a comfortable pair of shoes, keep them forever even if you have to repair them, because it’s worth it.
“It’s fun sometimes to build an outfit around a shoe. I’ll often start from the bottom up.” —Debra Rapoport
Sue Kreitzman, Fabulous Fashionista
What do you call your personal style? “All about art.”
Sue’s feet Very very bad, bordering on the pathetic. NO ONE sees my feet except the foot doctor.
Favorite shoes Red Fitflop clogs, or red-sequined converse sneakers.
What do your shoes say? “I love red.” And “I have bad feet, and love comfort!”
Shoe idol Perhaps the chef Mario Batalli. He designed the colorful Crocs Bistro clogs. They come in red. And orange. And pink!! I love them too.
Shoe cravings? I am deliriously happy with the shoes I have.
How much would you spend on a pair of shoes? The shoes I wear are extremely economical. That leaves me plenty of dough to spend on art.
Personal shoe no-nos Spiked heels, pointy toes, toe cleavage, anything painful.
Sue’s shoe tip Don’t wear stupid, painful, inhumane shoes. They can seriously damage your feet for life. Nothing is worth that.
“I find it funny that people seem to love my very odd shoes and assume I am wearing them for style and fashion. Eccentric dressers can get away with anything!! “—Sue Kreitzman
Valerie, Idiosyncratic Fashionista
What do you call your personal style? Architectural, textural and graphic. I love clothes – including shoes – that make me do a double take.
What do your shoes say? “ I don’t have to wear heels to look chic.”
Valerie’s feet They are my good buddies and they are warhorses – sturdy, reliable and hard working. When they were miserable, my day-to-day life was miserable. I treated them to three surgeries, and in return they allow me to walk as much as I did in my youth – as long as I wear flats.
Favorite shoes Red leather brogues with a T-strap on wooden platforms that I bought in Italy when I was 20. If I could get them remade in a larger size with a cushioned platform, I would be wearing them now.
Other shoes – for parties, workouts, dancing…? Life is too short: I wear my party shoes to work. (My party shoes are flat, too.)
Shoe cravings I would love Nicolas Ghesquiere and Jeffrey Campbell to make a flat version of all their high heels. And I would love to get my hands on Maud Frizon and Diego Della Valle shoes from the ‘80s.
Vintage Maud Frizon 1980s Space-Age Disco Shoes, $59 on Etsy
How much would you spend on a pair of shoes? The most I’ve ever spent was $400 for a pair of suede shoes that went gradually from rich speckled orange at the toe to light speckled yellow at the heel. The next most expensive were thigh high red Maud Frizon boots that I bought at a resale shop – a steal at $200. Now that I’m approaching retirement age, I would be delighted never to spend that much on shoes again.
Shoe no-nos Fur and no pointy toes.
Advice for designers If the fashion industry can make a beautiful comfortable bra, it can also make a beautiful comfortable shoe.
Valerie’s tip There are soooo many ways to make a style statement. If you’re comfortable in heels, more power to you, but heels are not by any means the only way to make a statement. Don’t feel you have to follow the crowd. Try leading!
“The hardest thing about giving up heels was finding enough gorgeous flats to replace them with. It’s almost as though designers don’t associate flats with style…. Heels get all the attention.” —Valerie
Flat shoes with crepe soles, linen vamp (from a Bergdorf napkin) and elastic ankle strap designed and hand made by Valerie in frustration after years of not finding any fabulous flat shoes at retailers (and after months of shoe making lessons). From “Shoe Kaddish” – a plea for better shoe design for older women – on the Idiosyncratic Fashionista blog.
What do you call your personal style? Glamorous
Lynn’s feet I am very lucky. My feet are good. The only problem I do have is I have vertigo, which means I am a little off balance. So I’m not concerned with my feet hurting; I’m concerned I may fall.
Favorite shoes My signature shoes are part of my costume that I wear every day. I wear boots over my knees, up to my thighs; I wear leggings and a loose sweater over it. And that’s the look I like because it’s glamorous. In the summer I wear dressy thongs, with a little platform with rhinestones. And I love wedgies. They’re with the rope soles. Still glamorous.
20 or 30 years ago… The very highest heel you could wear at the time. And the wedge. I loved the wedge because it made me taller.
Shoe idol – someone whose shoes you want to walk in? No. I’m happy I can walk in my own shoes – and I am happy I can walk.
Shoe cravings? I don’t have that great hunger to have to wear fashionable high heels any more. Since I can’t really wear that high-heeled shoe that I think is so stunning and be comfortable, I’d rather be comfortable and just look lovely.
Personal shoe no-nos I think anyone who goes out to the theater or goes out in the evening for dinner and wears sneakers… it’s awful. I don’t care how bad your feet are or what problems you have, you can still get a lovely, simple shoe.
Lynn’s tip Don’t draw attention to your feet unless they’re beautiful. Accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. And you must be comfortable at all times.
“When you go to a party, you really only see your shoes when you walk in the room. If you are going to a dinner party, you sit down a the table and really all that is seen is from your waist line up. So if your hair is lovely and your skin is lovely and your mood is lovely, and your make up is lovely…the shoe isn’t that important any more.” —Lynn Dell
See more on footwear from the Fabulous Fashionistas
See more from Advanced Style, the Documentary
Visit Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, the blog
- “Advanced Style, the Documentary,” was released in the UK earlier this year and UK-compatible DVDs, as well as a screening schedule, are available here. We’ll keep you posted on plans for the US release.
- “Fabulous Fashionistas” is available in various formats here. Also see our interview with “Fabulous Fashionistas” award-winning director Sue Bourne.
I wish I could wear nice shoes but I am stuck with Crocs. Even after walking or standing for longer than 30 mins. my feet begin to hurt. I have hammer toes and arthritis in my feet. I used to walk everywhere but now that is impossible. If I walk any distance returning home is painful, like walking on hot nails, even in Crocs. I am happy for those who can wear any shoes at any age. I am 69 and my feet gave out when I was in my 50s.
That’s so true. My neighbor had back surgery years ago. She’s a television producer who I think works part time. But when she does work, she works very hard, very busy. She also helps take care of her family which is probably harder than producing. The only shoes she can wear after the surgery are Birkenstocks. Nothing else.
What does it mean older feet? I think that people get old just when they stop feeling young! Stylish shoes can be for older feet also!
A little of it can be your attitude, but old feet are old feet. They have been used for many years doing their job and they simply hurt sometimes due to age. As much as I would love to wear beautiful shoes, most shoes made for old feet are not beautiful. But they hopefully are supportive and comfortable. And then old tired feet feel a little better. But even those are sometimes difficult to find. Beauty, support and comfort…ah…those would be wonderful to find!
I looove all these lovely ladies of a certain age. I have always loved shoes and I manage to get cute ones once in a while. I will go to the remix vintage page and perhaps order some. I go to a luncheon once a month with fabulouslly wealthy women who don’t have cute shoes like me who lives on a set budget. Ha Ha
I’m 65 and LOVE shoes. In 1978, I was hit by a train and had both of my legs and feet broken in multiple places. Today, I suffer from arthritis at the site of the injuries. My feet are rather small, narrow, and no bunions. I don’t wear shoes made in China. I have found that a quality shoe is the most comfortable. I do wear kitten heals, wedges, and platforms. My favorite brands are Beautifeel, Naot, Thierry Rabotin, Stuart Weizman, Paul Green, Pas de Rouge, Brunate, Aquatalia. Hope that may help some ladies.
I’m going to check on some of those! Thank you! : )
I wore high heels with pointy toes for two many years. Retired and went to sandals, now feet are 1 size bigger and wider. C width shoes are hard to find, anybody know names of shoe makers that carry wides?
I enjoyed the article so much. These women are right on. Shoes are important but must be comfortable. Stylish, comfortable shoes are getting hard to find.
Does anyone know the brand of the blue shoe in the picture of Valerie’s flats?
Hi Sharie, Valerie says the blue cotton shoes (next to the Warhol tomato soup shoes) are unlabeled and were bought at a resale shop for $20.
Thank you! I’m bummed but glad to stop looking.
Hi from Ireland, love these women, doing exactly what they feel comfortable doing, while making the world a brighter place. Ireland is slowly getting out of the tradition of “old means grey hair and shawls. Keep up the good work ladies.
these are great! Inspiring actually-
please take a look at the Wolkys line of shoes, especially the impressively comfortable and oddly trendy Lily style
I just love these women! I want to meet each and every one! I’ve a great pair of wedged sandals that I bought last year in a bright green! I pulled them out this spring and they were filthy, so I painted them a darker green (paint on hand), took some colorful feathers and glued them down on the side of just one, and voila!! Everyone asks where I got them! HA! $30 we’ll spent!
Thanks for tackling this CRITICALLY IMPORTANT topic. There’s lots of money to be made by smart shoe designers.
What a terrible headline on this article. Why on earth are you dissing Birkenstocks? I adore my Birkenstock sandals and always have. They are the comfiest sandals on the planet.
And what makes them any more ‘boring’ or less fashionable than those (to me) hideous clogs or Doc Martens?
The glorious thing about being an old woman is that I can wear what feels good and be thoroughly, authentically me rather than trying endlessly to conform to someone else’s idea of what is ‘beautiful’ or ‘boring’ or any other adjective.