"When a woman buys shoes, she takes them out of the box and looks at herself in the mirror. But she isn't really looking at the shoes - she's looking at herself. If she likes herself, then she likes the shoes. A man is a fetishist: He polishes his shoes, appreciates the finish, wants to preserve them for a long time. A woman doesn't care about this. She isn't pround of having a shoe for 10 years. It's a natural feminine instinct to accessorize. A naked woman in heels is a beautiful thing. A naked man in shoes looks like a fool."
Thus spoke Christian Louboutin in the March issue of Marie Claire. As much as I'd like to claim that Louboutin is completely wrong, I'm not confident I can. Surely gender stereotypes are often misguided and used as marketing tools: women are supposed to buy "frivolous" pretty things, and men "smart" things like electronics and cars. I think we can safely say that those stereotypes are a little foolish: we probably all know people whose consumer-habits are either smart or problematic, and gender is hardly ever the defining factor once you start taking things apart. But when it comes to my own history with shoes, I hate to admit that I think I know what Louboutin is talking about. I've been there countless of times, looking at myself in the mirror, wearing a new pair of shoes, loving the way they made me feel about myself. And I also recognise that a lot of it has to do with my gender.
However, I strongly disagree with Louboutin that women's attitudes toward shoes are about some kind of god-given feminine instinct, a natural order of sorts. When I say that my shoe-life has its roots in my gender, I'm talking about the way I learned to be a woman. As I was growing up, I saw my mother in fancy high heels. She had a good (but not huge) collection of beautifully made Italian shoes, and according to my mother, her mother had a truly enviable collection of shoes back in the day. I also witnessed my stepfather obsessively polishing his shoes in the weekends; he would only buy a new pair of shoes after the old pair broke. That's what I saw, and that's how gender stereotypes are made: through observation and learning. These days there is something that can be said about the the Sex and the City-mentality. If our own mothers don't live up to the stereotype of the shoe-craving woman, we always have Carrie Bradshaw and her friends to fall back on. We do what we see other women do - even if the women we see are fictional.
But back to Louboutin and his "feminine instinct to accessorize". It is just too easy to fall back on the assumption that the way women learn to connect with shoes has its roots in the biological make-up of us as representatives of our gender. To portray the woman as the natural peacock is pure nonsense. We can look at the history of costumes and take note of the fact that men, especially the wealthy, wore high heels from the 16th century to the 18th, and their attire used to be just as flashy, if not flashier, than women's. Why men eventually abandoned their fascination with shoes and high heels and women did not - to be honest, I haven't read enough about the topic to know. But I think it's safe to say that "natural instinct to accessorize" is not the reason. As for why Louboutin would claim that it is, well, that's how shoes are sold. But funnily enough, he also goes to say that he hates "the idea of natural". So I guess if women's natural instinct is to accessorize and to keep buying shoes... and the very natural he just talked about is somehow not desirable in his eyes... I would claim that Louboutin just doesn't know what the heck he is talking about. Anything to sell more shoes to women who don't really need them, right?