I have bought my first bouquets of daffodils and pink-and-white tulips for our kitchen table, and I’ve seen crocuses and other bulbs poking up through the small patches of dirt surrounding trees in the concrete sidewalks. I drove by Uncle Louie G’s Homemade Gourmet Italian Ices and Ice Cream in Brooklyn with my other girlfriend, Kristen, and nearly swerved the car off the road when we saw that the window was open. Kristen and I are starting to think about summer camping plans and traveling and our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) summer share—I can’t wait for all the peppers, tomatoes, and greens that we’ll be swimming in come June, July, and August. This year we’re going to try a fruit share, too, and perhaps an egg or bread share. Local food just tastes better, doesn’t it?
The signs of spring are everywhere—though it’s not quite here in full force yet. The shirts are getting shorter, the jackets are getting lighter, the boots are being put away and traded in for kickers and heels and loafers. The bundling up that has defined the shoes of the last four months is over, and we can all take our shoes with lighter soles and thinner material now that we don’t have to battle the elements of water and wind and cold. I always take my two favorite pairs of loafers—one brown and one black leather—to the shoe store to get polished and mended, if needed. This year, I think my favorite black Geoffrey Rush pair needs new soles, sadly—shoes just aren’t quite the same once they’re on their second sole, though I do love that I can extend the life of the shoe with just a little bit of an investment.
And just today, I saw them—my favorite real sign of spring: a girl walking through Union Square in ankle-tied espadrilles.
Espadrilles took a while to grow on me, but now? Oh I love them. I used to think they were too casual, with their signature soles or the rope that wraps around the heels, but now I see them as a sure sign that summer is around the corner. You’d recognize these shoes if you saw them, I bet, though most folks don’t seem to know what they’re called. Apparently they come from the Pyrenees, and usually have a canvas or cotton fabric upper and a sole made out of rope (or rubber made to look like rope), often jute. They strike me as so Mediterranean, as perfect shoes to wear along a boardwalk on a beach with the summer pastel colors of baby pinks, sky blues, sea greens, pale yellows.
The key to these shoes, and the reason I first fell in love with them so very much, is that quite often the upper canvas part would extend into laces that wrap around the ankle or even up the calf. I adore this look. It makes me swoon, makes my knees weak, makes me stare open-mouthed across the public park at a stranger because I just adore the way they make a girl’s legs look. Not just espadrilles, but any shoe that criss-crosses up the ankle.
I’ve asked myself many times why it is that I am so turned on by this look, and the best explanation is that it evokes some sort of bondage. I mean I have virtually no feelings about ballet, so it’s not the evocation of the toe shoe image—though I do find that quite beautiful, if I can get past the idea that one’s body weight is not supposed to be supported on the tips of one’s toes and that it is probably doing lots of damage to that person’s toes. (Black Swan, anyone?)
But the wrapping around the ankle, the restraint, the constraint—oh I love that. I like ribbons and bow and ties on just about anything, really: dresses, shoulder straps, halter tops, in someone’s hair. But the ankle tie really makes me swoon.
And when you start looking up, uh, studying and researching, shoes that have this kind of feature, it very quickly and easily leads you to plastic and high platform soles and vinyl, and to websites that aren’t so much cute and pretty as they are sultry, sexy, and yes, sometimes slutty. These shoes are made for fetishists, strippers, and bold declarations of sex and sexy and sexuality.
It isn’t that I dislike those bold statements of sexuality—hell, sometimes it’s super hot. But when building an outfit, and when spending a hundred dollars on shoes, you may want to have more than one look you can pull off with them. And most of the tie-up, ankle-strap shoes, while they do continue to make me swoon, will immediately dress down, and make overtly sexual, any outfit that you may be wearing with them.
That might be fine for you, and I support that. But I’m finding that as I get older, and have more experience in the world of sex and sexuality, that I really love the subtle, especially (and perhaps only?) in outfits. I am less and less interested in nudity, excessive cleavage, skirts cut up to the panty line, and more and more intrigued by traditionally wholesome (or should I say “wholesome”) looks, like layers, angles, curves, and classic cuts.
I think this is for a few reasons: one is that I value the ability to walk between worlds, to cross borders, to be included in whatever space or group that one may desire to be, and sometimes the presentation can have something to do with that. That’s not good, really, and I wish people would not judge by the way we look, especially the tattooed, short haired, radical presentations that often represent minority communities like my own, but I continue to value that ability to blend in by choice, to make intentional one’s fluidity with many social circles and groups.
Second, I fetishize articulacy. I love it when friends or lovers can articulate what they want, who they are, how their gender works, how their sexuality works, how their desires run in their bodies, and how they want to play with me. I so love intention behind sex and gender. Someone’s overtly coded outfit may help them fit into very particular subcultures, or to gain the attention of certain people, or gain visibility in certain ways, but it doesn’t require articulation in the same way that coded subtlety does.
Perhaps this is turning out to be more of an ode to femmes than to espadrilles, but in trying to articulate my desires for these kind of clunky, kind of awkward shoes I have a bit of a round-about way to explain it: Espadrilles are the shoes that are in between that overtly sexy and the average sandal, where still the subtle evocation of bondage is present but they can easily be kicked around in at the family picnic.
When it’s warm enough for bare legs again, and the espadrilles start coming out of the (shoe) closets, I know it’s a sure sign of spring.