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Please Explain These Shoes

A Gucci mule. Illustration: Joe McKendry

A fashion historian helps put some of this season’s footwear in context.


A Pink Silk Mule With Rhinestones (above)

What’s going on here: This little jewel of a shoe is based on an 18th-century-style mule as seen through a late-1950s looking glass. Technically, mules are shoes with no back, so these aren’t a pure mule, though the buckle on this shoe very much resembles an actual 18th-century buckle (except it would have been made with real diamonds). In the late 1700s, pink was the most fashionable color — in part because a new kind of dye had been discovered from the brazilwood plant, but also because using the dye was expensive and therefore a status symbol. Men and women started wearing pink clothes and decorating with pink furniture. Pink everywhere! Pink was also popular in the 1950s, and the shape of this shoe looks more like mules from that era designed by Roger Vivier.

A 18th-century mule. Illustration: Joe McKendry
Roger Vivier 1960s mule. Illustration: Joe McKendry

Louis Vuitton


Illustration: Joe McKendry

What’s going on here: This is a high-visibility boot! Great for Instagram because of the architectural heel and pointed toe. But what is most interesting is the combination of materials, colors, and prints: white, dark-brown, and woven red leathers; a black-and-white-striped stretch fabric; and of course the band on the ankle that is a miniature Vuitton print. The 1980s had a lot of architectural shapes and designs. Not exactly like this heel, but more like the geometric shapes of Memphis-style furniture. It’s a really fabulous shoe.

Classic Western boot. Illustration: Joe McKendry

Miu Miu

Green Satin Platform With Embellished Pearl Clasp

Illustration: Joe McKendry

What’s going on here: This sandal looks like a reinterpretation of the 1990s via the glam-rock 1970s — but it gets complicated because the ’70s took cues from the platforms ­ubiquitous in wartime Europe. Yet this season’s version feels very ­contemporary because of the artificial, Easter-candy color. The stiff bow on the front references lingerie, but any trace of sex appeal is lost when the shoe is paired with a thick librarian’s stocking. It’s the kind of mash-up that makes Miuccia Prada’s shoes feel both retro and utterly 2019.

Bianca Jagger 1970s platforms. Illustration: Joe McKendry

*This article appears in the February 4, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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A Fashion Historian Explains This Season’s Shoes