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

( 5 )

Overview

What is it about a pair of shoes that so enchants women of all ages, demographics, political affiliations, and style tribes? Part social history, part fashion record, part pop-culture celebration, Women from the Ankle Down seeks to answer that question as it unfolds the story of shoes in the twentieth century.

The tale begins in the rural village of Bonito, Italy, with a visionary young shoemaker named Salvatore Ferragamo, and ends in New York City with a fictional socialite and...

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

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Overview

What is it about a pair of shoes that so enchants women of all ages, demographics, political affiliations, and style tribes? Part social history, part fashion record, part pop-culture celebration, Women from the Ankle Down seeks to answer that question as it unfolds the story of shoes in the twentieth century.

The tale begins in the rural village of Bonito, Italy, with a visionary young shoemaker named Salvatore Ferragamo, and ends in New York City with a fictional socialite and trendsetter named Carrie Bradshaw. Along the way it stops in Hollywood, where Judy Garland first slipped on her ruby slippers; New Jersey, where Nancy Sinatra heard something special in a song about boots; and the streets of Manhattan, where a transit strike propelled women to step into new cutting-edge athletic shoes. Featuring interviews with designers, historians, and cultural experts, and a cast of real-life characters, from Marilyn Monroe to Jane Fonda, from Gwen Stefani to Manolo Blahnik, Women from the Ankle Down is an entertaining, compelling look at the evolution of modern women and the fashion that reflects—and has shaped—their changing lives.

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Editorial Reviews

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.”
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.”
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061969683
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/4/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 284
  • Sales rank: 957,422
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachelle Bergstein graduated in 2003 from Vassar College. She works as an editorial consultant for a literary agency in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her cat, and her shoes. Women from the Ankle Down is her first book. You can follow her on Twitter @RaBergstein.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 19, 2014

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A look through

    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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2013

    Wkdjdks.dbx

    Good book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2012

    Good Read--interesting

    No pictures but an interesting story of the history of shoes.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 3, 2012

    Not What I Expected

    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.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

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