Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us

Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us

3.2 5
by Rachelle Bergstein
     
 

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“If style defines the woman, and shoes a woman’s style, then ooh la la, here’s the definitive history and guide—everything from Chinese bound feet to Ferragamo, from Hollywood favorites to running up one’s credit card on the sine qua non of fashion.” —Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat

Rachelle

Overview

“If style defines the woman, and shoes a woman’s style, then ooh la la, here’s the definitive history and guide—everything from Chinese bound feet to Ferragamo, from Hollywood favorites to running up one’s credit card on the sine qua non of fashion.” —Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat

Rachelle Bergstein brings readers along on a unique and delightful romp through the history of shoes, the women who wear them, and the profound impact they have on our lives. Women from the Ankle Down includes interviews and cameos with influential figures ranging from Lisa Mayock of Vena Cava to Oscar-winning costume designer Patrizia van Brandenstein, from Doc Martens historian Martin Roach to FIT museum director Valerie Steele; from Marilyn Monroe and Jane Fonda to Salvador Ferragamo and Christian Dior; from Judy Garland to Wonder Woman.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The evolution of women’s shoes since WWII becomes the story of women’s self-empowerment in this engaging, toe-to-heel study by editorial consultant Bergstein. Aside from some fluffy conclusions about shoes offering women the requisite “incomparable opportunity for self-expression,” Bergstein takes some iconic styles over the decades, such as Salvatore Ferragamo’s cork-soled wartime wedgie, and provides minibios and fascinating informational tidbits: e.g., Ferragamo’s 1938 sandal ingeniously employed material readily available on the eve of war, such as foil and cork, combined with a style dating back to ancient Greece, to create a shoe that was wonderfully comfortable and modern-feeling for new women on the go. Shoes can help women achieve their dreams, or so Dorothy Gale via Judy Garland learned in The Wizard of Oz by clicking thrice her bowed ruby slippers (changed from silver in the book), while Wonder Woman, first appearing in her own comic book in 1942, wore high-heeled red boots designed to be assertive yet still feminine. Or shoes seduce, like Barbara Stanwyck’s pom-pom satin pumps in Double Indemnity. From flats à la Audrey Hepburn, Keds and white go-go boots, Tommy-era platforms, and Jane Fonda’s Rebok Freestyles, to Sex and the City’s pricey Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choo’s, Bergstein ably runs the gamut of styles over the decades, high and low, and women’s eager embrace of “personal agency.” (June)
Kirkus Reviews
An illuminating study of the history of women's shoes in the 20th century. In her debut, Bergstein examines the fascinating and surprisingly complex relationship between women and their shoes--"the average woman owns upward of ten, twenty, fifty pairs of shoes, some of which have very little practical use and languish in the back of the closet until just the right occasion arises." Bergstein traces the origins of this modern-day mania to Salvatore Ferragamo, who, by the 1930s, had "put Italy on the footwear map" by becoming shoemaker to Hollywood stars like Carmen Miranda and Lana Turner. Ordinary women who were used to more mundane styles suddenly became aware of the allure and erotic potential of a pair of beautiful, well-crafted shoes. After the privations of World War II, the fashion industry emphasized abundance through a greater diversity of styles, including stilettos, which "were meant to be decadent, not useful." As haute couture fell out of favor in the '60s, popular designers like Mary Quant made the footwear-buying public aware of new possibilities that included shoes and boots made of disposable materials like Corfam and vinyl. "[F]antasy and self indulgence" became the watchwords of the '70s, when women and men took to the streets and discotheques in gender-bending platform shoes. The gains that feminism made for women during this decade eventually translated into a desire for high-end footwear by such contemporary designers as Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin. Bergstein concludes by suggesting that greater social and economic mobility among women has ultimately created "the age of great variety, when shoes are as diverse as the women who wear them." Like Dorothy's ruby red slippers, modern shoes are a way for women to express their hopes and dreams, but without "question, fear or apology." Wickedly provocative.
New York Journal of Books
“Every woman who loves her shoes should read this book—hell—every man who loves women’s shoes should read this book….Informative, interesting, and just plain fun.”
Booklist
“Engaging….A charmingly interwoven story of the past 100 years, detailing a bit of the psychology behind different styles as well as the fame that drives the fates of a variety of soles and heels.”
Liesl Schillinger
“A fleet-footed social history.”
Mireille Guiliano
“If style defines the woman, and shoes a woman’s style, then ooh la la, here’s the definitive history and guide—everything from Chinese bound feet to Ferragamo, from Hollywood favorites to running up one’s credit card on the sine qua non of fashion.”
Amanda Lovell
“If you could glimpse the passing parade of the last hundred years or so from behind a slightly raised curtain, you’d have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in this richly anecdotal history of shoes.”
Tricia Springstubb
“[Bergstein’s] entertaining book wears its research as lightly as a pair of strappy sandals.”
Susannah Calahan
“Fun.”
Ron Rosenbaum
“At last someone has dared to probe one of the most mystifying phenomena in our culture: what’s the deal with women and shoes? Rachelle Bergstein starts from the ground up and tells us—with wit and brio—a lot about society from an unusual and original perspective.”
Ruth Reichl
“As a woman who walks, I’ve often wondered why I don’t wear more sensible shoes. Now I know. Rachelle Bergstein has written a compulsively readable history: it won’t keep you from buying an absurdly uncomfortable and expensive pair, but it will make you understand why you’re doing it.”
Holly Hebert
“An entertaining journey through the social history of shoes and the people who have worn them....Well-written and well-referenced….Recommended to all fashion followers as well as those who enjoy the ankle-down approach to studying our high-end material culture.”
Olivia Barker
“A lively look at the history of stilettos, sneakers and sundry other leather- and rubber-soled objects of swoon.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061969614
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
05/29/2012
Pages:
284
Sales rank:
1,328,156
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

What People are saying about this

Holly Hebert

“An entertaining journey through the social history of shoes and the people who have worn them....Well-written and well-referenced….Recommended to all fashion followers as well as those who enjoy the ankle-down approach to studying our high-end material culture.”

Susannah Calahan

“Fun.”

Ruth Reichl

“As a woman who walks, I’ve often wondered why I don’t wear more sensible shoes. Now I know. Rachelle Bergstein has written a compulsively readable history: it won’t keep you from buying an absurdly uncomfortable and expensive pair, but it will make you understand why you’re doing it.”

Amanda Lovell

“If you could glimpse the passing parade of the last hundred years or so from behind a slightly raised curtain, you’d have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in this richly anecdotal history of shoes.”

Mireille Guiliano

“If style defines the woman, and shoes a woman’s style, then ooh la la, here’s the definitive history and guide—everything from Chinese bound feet to Ferragamo, from Hollywood favorites to running up one’s credit card on the sine qua non of fashion.”

Liesl Schillinger

“A fleet-footed social history.”

Ron Rosenbaum

“At last someone has dared to probe one of the most mystifying phenomena in our culture: what’s the deal with women and shoes? Rachelle Bergstein starts from the ground up and tells us—with wit and brio—a lot about society from an unusual and original perspective.”

Tricia Springstubb

“[Bergstein’s] entertaining book wears its research as lightly as a pair of strappy sandals.”

Meet the Author

Rachelle Bergstein, the author of Women from the Ankle Down, works at a literary agency in New York. She lives with her husband and their son in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A look through history and how events in history effect fashion and specifically footwear.  Starting at the beginning of how footwear really started becoming a way for women and men to show their personalities in the United States to how each war affected the fabrics that were used and even how to get shoes into the US from outside manufacturers. The most interesting thing for me was the correlation between historical events, fashion and their affect on footwear.  Distinctly the flapper era where the hemlines went up and women would want showy shoes since you saw them compared to previous decades where shoes were hidden and were more for function.  The last few chapters spoke quite in depth about the music industry and how it has put a stamp on footwear and I enjoyed having those two things in one conversation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No pictures but an interesting story of the history of shoes.
mshoni More than 1 year ago
The title and premise of this book are a little misleading. Or maybe my expectations were a little off. This was really a mini-history of shoes from the 20th century, beginning with the arrival of Salvatore Ferragamo on the scene and in America. Bergstein chooses to tell this story mainly through the tales of some iconic shoes: Dorothy's "ruby" slippers, stilettos (of course), Birkenstocks, Chuck Taylor's, etc. While I did learn a few things (Ferragamo's history was really interesting), this felt more like a collection of anecdotes, insider tales and Hollywood stories about shoes. And the chapter on 70's shoes and platforms was mainly about men. Certainly not the book I was expecting, but a decent read nonetheless.