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Greenfield writer talks foot fashion in ‘Walk This Way’

  • “Walk This Way“



For the Recorder
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

“Walk This Way” is a clever, fitting title for a perfectly stunning book about historic footwear.

This image-rich volume was put together by Greenfield resident Edward Maeder, a freelance costume historian and textile curator with a striking writerly voice.

Subtitled “Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes,” the book was published by the New York Historical Society in Manhattan to accompany its recent exhibition of shoes owned by Weitzman. One need not have seen the shoes on display to appreciate the book, however.

Weitzman is one of America’s best known shoe designers. His shoes and boots have been featured in boardrooms, on red carpets, and on the feet of a variety of professional women.

More than four decades ago, his wife, Jane Gershon Weitzman, gave the designer his first antique shoes. He now owns more than 300 pairs of collectible footwear, mostly American and European shoes for women dating from the Civil War to the 1980s.

“Walk This Way” features gorgeous glossy color photographs of many of these, beginning with a pair of wedding slippers dating back to 1838. Maeder’s text leads the reader through shoe fashions from then to now, emphasizing the ways in which cultural, political and economic trends have affected women’s footwear.

Photographs of shoes in the collection are interspersed with reproductions of historical paintings, photographs, magazine illustrations and sheet-music covers that underline and provide context for the changes in female footwear the author describes.

Maeder talks about cultural and artistic influences on foot fashion like the fight for female suffrage, the dance crazes of the 1920s and ’30s, the prominence of art deco in architecture, and the influence of movie stars and their costumes on and off the set.

Some of these trends were new to me. For example, Maeder explains that with the rationing of leather shoes in World War II, manufacturers came up with designs for footwear made of unconventional materials. The results were known as “unrationed shoes.”

After reading the book, I am of course eager to expand my own collection of footwear. Many of the shoes described are a little too historical for me, but there are pairs dating from as early as the 1920s I’d love to own and wear, full of color, whimsy and flair.

Maeder writes, “Dress holds the key to our perception of who we think we are — and who we want to be.”

I’m not exactly sure who I am, but I know I want to be the sort of woman who would wear a pair of platform heels like the ones Maeder describes as favored by film star Carmen Miranda. His book is inspiring, informative and just plain fun.

Edward Maeder will talk about “Walk This Way” and sign copies of his new book on Tuesday, Oct. 30, at 6 p.m. at the Greenfield Public Library.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.