LONG before Sex in the City made Jimmy Choo a household name, long before Kirsty MacColl sang that tribute to high heels – In These Shoes? (I don't think so) – women all over the world were footwear fanatics.
For men, shoes may be little more than a means of protecting feet, but for women they are a collectors' item, an expression of identity and a record of the past all rolled into one.
Celebrities adore them. Keira Knightley has confessed to having shoes she hasn't even taken out of the box and Victoria Beckham is famous for teetering round on ones which are vertical and gravity-defying.
The all-consuming nature of their obsession was perfectly captured in the famous Sex in the City scene where Carrie Bradshaw begged a mugger to take her expensive jewellery, but leave her designer Manolo Blahnik heels behind. But it isn't just the rich and famous who like to splurge out when it comes to shoes. A study in 2006 showed 2.5 million women had at least 30 pairs, one for every day of the month. And though the credit crunch may have tempered some women's ardour, it seems many others are simply finding new ways – like shopping on eBay or attending shoe "parties" – to feed their addiction. As the TUC puts out a warning – to general derision – that some footwear can be dangerous, calling for stilettos to be banned in the workplace, DANI GARAVELLI looks at the passionate and often obsessive relationship women have with their shoes.
MOST EXPENSIVE SHOES
Every few years, shoe designer Stuart Weitzman comes up with an opulent creation for one rising Hollywood star to wear on the red carpet at the Academy Awards ceremony. These – satin open-toe stilettos – which have diamond and precious gemstone earrings once owned by Rita Hayworth as their centrepiece – are the most expensive in the world. Worth 1.8m, they were worn by musician and Oscar nominee Kathleen "Bird" York in 2006.
MOST FAMOUS SHOES
Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz were white silk pumps from the Innes Shoe Co before the film's costume department stepped in.
By the time Judy Garland wore them, they had bows with three large red glass jewels, bugle beads and glass rhinestones in silver settings. Of the seven pairs created for the 1939 movie classic, three disappeared completely. One pair is in the Smithsonian museum; another was stolen in 2005 from the Judy Garland Museum and has yet to be recovered while a third fetched 407,000 at a Christies' auction in 2000.
MOST AUDACIOUS SHOE THEFT
A pair of rare slippers, encrusted with rubies and diamonds, which were once worn by the Indian prince Nizam Sikandar Jah of Hyderabad in the 18th century, were stolen from a glass case under the nose of curators from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada, in 2006. A few days later the historic footwear, worth 98,000, were recovered thanks to an anonymous tip. Experts said no damage had been done though there was evidence the shoes had been worn.
MOST ECO-FRIENDLY SHOES
It's a shoe that at first glance doesn't look so very different from other trainers, but it's made of cardboard. One of many featured in artist Mike Leavitt's cardboard shoe show, which debuted in New York in April, it makes a great statement on recycling, which is exactly what you'd have to do with them if it started to rain.
THE LONGEST SHOES
Are these shoes that turn into trousers, or trousers that turn into shoes? Created by couture designer Daryl Van Wouw, they certainly ease the dilemma of what to wear in the mornings, but toilet stops might prove a bit tricky.
Made by LadyBWear of Cheadle, these monsters are officially the world's highest heels and have a Guinness World Records certificate to prove it. They boast an 11-inch platform and 16-inch heels. Clearly not for the faint-hearted.
MOST BLING TRAINERS
Eleven-carat, chocolate champagne diamonds from India outline the ticks on a pair of Nike Air Force 1 Supreme Max SoCal runners belonging to American rapper Antwan "Big Boi" Patton from Outkast.
The limited editions – worth 30,600 – were customised by Laced Up owner Ernel Dawkins and C Couture boutique owner Rita Patel.
BEST GADGET IN A SHOE
There's a funky shoe with working Nintendo Gameboys embedded in the platforms that's said to be very popular with console-crazy teenagers in Japan. Just pop them out and play them any time, any place. So far there is no sign of the trend taking off in the UK. Can't imagine why.
HIGHEST HEELS on the HIGH STREET
Earlier this month, the tallest stiletto heels ever sold in mainstream shops – these "Miss KG Goldie" shoes with gold glitter-clad mega platforms (above) – were launched in Debenhams, for the bargain price of 65.
MOST GRAVITY-DEFYING SHOES
Victoria Beckhamchallenged the laws of physics when she wore Antonio Berardi thigh-high PVC five and a half inch boots without heels in1 Macy's Herald Square in 2008.
LONGEST CHAIN OF SHOES
A chain of 10,512 shoes was laid heel-to-toe in the courtyard at the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC on 2 July 2008. It was assembled by National Geographic Kids magazine, and it was certified by Guinness World Records as the longest string of shoes ever put together, measuring 8,700 feet or nearly 1.65 miles.
ZOE STRACHAN, AUTHOR
I do still love shoes, but in the credit crunch I've had to start shopping on eBay instead of taking a nice trip into Frasers. eBay's OK but you can't try the shoes on so you do get some that don't fit properly. I've got a pair beside me just now, they're red – I like brightly-coloured shoes – I've tried them with insoles and with a sticky thing on the back, but it's no good. They're my size, but they're too big.
MARY CONTINI, FOOD WRITER AND DIRECTOR OF VALVONA & CROLLA
My relationship with shoes is not particularly romantic because my feet are so big (41s, if you must know, but I tell people that's my age, not my shoe size). I do aspire to wearing Manolo Blahniks and in my younger days I bought plenty of pairs of shoes which I convinced myself I could get into and then had to abandon. I remember a pair of black and blue shoes with six-inch heels, which I wore once for 10 minutes.
JANEY GODLEY, COMEDIAN
Shoes are very important in my life in the sense that I left school at 16 because I didn't have any. Then – during the Eighties – I did my stints of wearing high heels while serving behind a bar all night, until I came to my senses and ditched them. Now I only wear the flattest, most comfortable shoes. I have my FitFlops, which I wear even in winter, my Vans trainers, one pair of basic black heels which I wear to the Baftas and my boots.
I think the whole fascination with shoes is a con created by men – a form of torture.
JEAN JOHANNSON, STV WEATHERGIRL
Shoes have always been my guilty pleasure. I was the archetypal little girl, clicking around in my mother's oversized shoes. I love big heels, the way they make the calf look and the height they give you. Now I have about 60 pairs and they are all in their own velvet bags and boxes. I don't label them, because I like the hunt, coming across them and remembering the last time I wore them.
HELEN BATEMAN, SHOE DESIGNER
When I was very young, I remember my mum buying me horrible lace-ups for school, while everyone else had pretty slip-ons (she was very utilitarian when it came to shoes) and the absolute mortification of having to wear them.
Even now I can't bear to put on a pair of ugly shoes. There is a difference between useful shoes and ugly shoes. You can have chucky, funky, great big wedgy boots, but they're only
ugly if the balance is wrong. I think women who buy shoes fall into two camps: those who are shoe-aholics and will buy shoes just because they like them and women who are looking to match them with something specific or who want them for a particular occasion. But most women seem to have a very firm idea of what they want.
TESSA HARTMANN, FOUNDER AND CO-CHAIR OF THE SCOTTISH FASHION COUNCIL
When I was young, I spent all my pocket money on shoes – it was around the time of Imelda Marcos and my dad was always calling me that. Nowadays, I always wear heels, even to school sports days. My kids say, "Mum doesn't do flats" and my friends say, "Tessa doesn't do grass". I think shoes are a statement and will last all through your life. My favourite shoes just now are probably my Alexander McQueen Union Jack ankle boots with extremely high stiletto. They cost 820, which is probably the most I've ever spent.
BILLY CONNOLLY, COMEDIAN
I've got maybe 100 pairs. There was one pair, they were patent leather brogues with a leopard skin bit and were to die for. The leather was an oily, change-colour thing; it was fabric and fur and regarded as pretty bad taste by most people. I adored them but someone stole them from my house at a party. That must have been 20 years ago and I still think about them.