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Silver Threads: White shoe woes

Editor's note: We first published this column for Labor Day 2013, but thought it worth a repost today. How else would you know that this has been a legal holiday since 1894? Or, more importantly, what it means to your closet.

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

For those of you who don’t know what Labor Day is all about -- it marks the end of the season for wearing white shoes.

When Congress made the first Monday in September a legal holiday, in 1894, the thought was that it would be a worker’s respite, marked by street parades in addition to other observances.  Now, I’ve never seen a Labor Day parade; the Southern states were hardly a bastion of the unions, and a picnic or barbecue was about all that you could expect by way of celebration on a day that, for most folks, just marked the end of summer.

But the day has been important to Southerners for other reasons. Not too many years ago, Labor Day was the last day of summer vacation from school; kids showed up for classes early the next morning to begin a new year’s studies. Over time, that’s changed a bit, especially in New Orleans, where students are likely to need some extra days off for evacuation during the last two months of the hurricane season. My grandsons have already been in school for a week.

As I mentioned above, though, -- and you might not have known this if you’re a young reader -- Labor Day has traditionally marked the close of the season for those white shoes that you took off the top shelf of your closet on Easter Sunday. (Folks in our northern climates, however, don’t do that until Memorial Day, but that’s another argument and story.)

The white shoe tradition has to be on its way out, because I don’t think there are many traditions left when it comes to where, when, how and with what you wear your clothes these days. In the eyes of this old lady, it all began going downhill when fashion designers started showing denim jackets over chiffon dresses.

That’s just contrary to natural law, I think, as is the wearing of the currently popular ‘clod-hopping’ high-heels, stepping out on runways, beneath frilly lace dresses and chests adorned with masses of pearls.  Don’t know what ‘clod-hoppers’ are? Since the 1680s, it has meant ‘louts’ or ‘bumpkins,’ and sometime after that, another definition became ‘heavy shoes’ or ‘boots.’ Who else but Google and I would tell you these things?

But back to white shoes. I stopped wearing them many years ago, when it dawned on me that my very long feet looked as though I had forgone footwear entirely and, instead, worn the boxes the shoes had come in. Since then, my concession to summer fashion has been to select a white shoe with a black toe. There! A foot that looks two sizes shorter.

Not all fashion problems are as easily solved, however. What’s a girl to do when Seventh Avenue, Paris and Milan dictate that she enclose her foot in gear that jabs at every aesthetic nerve, never mind being tricky to walk in?

The guys are more independent. How many have you seen at work in suits with the tight-legged and high-water trousers featured on fashion magazine covers? And it has been at least several hundreds of years since men forsook comfortable footwear for high heels -- worn mainly at court, I think.

My grandsons now have some interesting shoes, though. They’re what used to be called ‘low-topped’ tennis shoes. Each part that’s stitched to another part comes in a different color; the choices are among vivid pinks and purples and lavenders and blues teamed with yellows, reds, and greens -- all in kind of day-glo shades.

I think they’re pretty. But I’m wondering how they’ll go with a tux for the prom. If anything, they’ll be more comfortable than the clod-hoppers.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]