Shoe shopping: decoded!

Shopping for shoes can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. D’orsay, wedge, stack, almond, leather, man-made, what? It’s enough to make your head spin. But that doesn’t mean you need to give up and spend the rest of your life in those boring white nurse sneakers! (You can if you want to, I guess, but where’s the fun in that?) Here are some tips on how to get a great pair of shoes.

First of all, fit them correctly. If you’re trying on something with a pointed toe, don’t be afraid to go up a size. If you’re right up against the sides of the shoes and they feel tight, go up in width. Just because you wear an 8 in one shoe doesn’t mean you might not need a 7 1/2 or 8 1/2 in another brand or style. Don’t buy into the “breaking them in” nonsense. If they don’t fit when you buy them, they don’t fit.

Secondly, don’t be afraid to add cushioning where you need it. In high heels, that’s most often going to be at the ball of the foot, where your weight comes down. Your body is used to having your weight distributed between your heel and the ball of your foot. When you put on heels, that’s going to redistribute your weight. That’s why no matter who you are, no matter how you’re built, heels will make your leg line longer, your butt wiggle when you walk, and your chest thrust forward, giving the look for which high heels are designed. It’s also going to put extra strain on the ball of your foot, which, if not absorbed, will tire your feet out. So get a cushion to put in the shoe, and take that cushion with you when you’re trying on. (Stores like Aerosoles will actually give you the cushions to go in shoes you buy there.) If you’re like me, and the ball of your foot is significantly wider than your heel, then you’ll probably need a little extra cushion around the heel, no matter what type of shoe you’re wearing. If the shoes you’re looking at don’t have padding there, you can get a stick-on cushion to go on the inside. That keeps friction from happening from the gap between your shoe and your heel. .

I know the super-high heels are cute, but don’t, unless there’s a platform at the front of your foot to reduce the angle. You don’t want the height of your heel to be more than 2-4″ from the top of the sole. Larger feet can get away with higher heels, because at a smaller size, it’s going to be a more drastic tilt to your ankle, and that can be unhealthy in the long run.

Shop for shoes at the end of the day, after your feet have had the chance to do any swelling they’re going to do. If they’re workable then, they’ll be workable any time of day, but if you buy early in the day, you may end up with shoes that are too tight and uncomfortable by the time you get ready to take them off.

Unless you’re specifically trying to avoid animal products, try not to buy shoes made from synthetic or “faux leather.” Real leather, if properly cared for, can hold up for ages. Synthetic leather, which is generally just hard molded fabric with leather-look waterproof coating, won’t do that. It scuffs and wears and comes apart. My favorite leather boots are some I’ve had for four years. The fake stuff tends to last me a few months at the outside. With leather shoes, you’ve got to keep them cleaned, conditioned, polished, and waterproofed, but proper care makes it a lot easier to keep a decent pair of shoes.

I know it’s a cliche that fashionistas want ALL the shoes, and I’ve got a bit of magpie in me on that point, because I want all the pretties for myself. But you don’t need that. All you really need are a few well-made pairs of shoes, to take care of the various occasions you’ll encounter. Anything else is just a bonus.

Here’s my basic list of what you’ll need:

Two or three pairs of comfortable, casual shoes (not sneakers) for everyday

A pair or two of shoes that are appropriate and practical for your job (style will obviously vary by what you do for a living)

A pair of dress shoes

A pair of sneakers for working out

You don’t have to spend a fortune or have clothes and shoes piled up everywhere to be well put together. You just have to have the basics down, and beyond that, you’re free to experiment or not, as you see fit.

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How to Keep Your Cosmetics and Fragrances (And When Not To)

Look, I know that just about everyone who grew up wearing fragrances and/or cosmetics learned to store them in the bathroom. Why else would bathroom cabinets have drawers in them, right? Aren’t you supposed to store your various products there?

Well, the best answer is no. The bright lights and the changes in temperature and humidity in a bathroom are just about the worst thing you could do for your products. If you’re like me, your bathroom is the only room in your house where you have a big mirror and counter space, and I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t do your hair and makeup there. When you’re done, though, take your products out of the bathroom and store them somewhere else. Find a solution that works for you. If that means you take your one bottle of perfume or cologne and stick it on a shelf in your closet, great. If you’ve got a handful of products, you can get a cheap cosmetic bag just about anywhere. (Dollar Tree. No, really.) Like to play with colors? Get a box. And so it goes, on up to product hounds like me. I have one of those three-drawer plastic carts on wheels that I got at Wal-Mart. They run about $15-20, which isn’t that much more than a nice cosmetics box, but they hold enough products for even me. I got the big size, 15x22x24, and the bottom drawer is overflowing with my fragrances, while the two upper drawers have hair stuff, makeup, and skin care.

If you leave your stuff in the bathroom, it’s not going to last nearly as long. Fragrances and other liquids are going to go first, because of their composition. A bathroom gets warmer than most other rooms of the house, so it’s a very bacteria-friendly place, even without taking the flush radius of your toilet (usually 4 feet or so for a home bathroom) into consideration. So it’s very easy for your products to get contaminated. Keep your cosmetics in a cooler room of the house, away from direct light, and store your fragrances in their original boxes. The average life of a perfume is two to three years, but properly sealed and properly cared for, they can last indefinitely. I’ve got some vintage Evening in Paris from the 1930s or so that is still absolutely lovely, because it was stored right to begin with. Fragrances in dark bottles (Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab oils or Chanel Coco Noir) or opaque bottles (such as the aluminum containers from Ed Hardy Villain and Montale, or the printed bottles for certain Bond No. 9 scents) will keep better, because they’re away from light, but if you take care of your stuff and only keep what you’re using regularly, the type of bottle won’t make that much of a difference in the long run.

Don’t ever leave your cosmetics in the car, even if they’re in a case. Like I said, heat can make them go off. Pencils and lipsticks melt and will make a terrible mess. Perfumes will turn rancid. Skin care products will break down and lose their effectiveness. All in all, bad idea.

Use brushes for your makeup instead of applying with sponges or with your fingers. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, you’re going to get a lot smoother application with a brush, which is going to give you a lot more even look. Second, makeup can build up inside a sponge, and you’ll end up wasting it. Third, brushes are easier to clean than sponges. Wash them with soap (or shampoo) and water once a week or so, and let them dry before using them again. Using clean brushes rather than fingers or a sponge will also help prevent contamination, making your products last longer.

Have you ever opened up a mascara and realized it smelled like old sneakers? That’s because it had bacteria growing inside that you really don’t want around your eyes, that can cause staph infections, conjunctivitis, or a whole host of nasties. Throw that thing out, for heaven’s sake–you don’t need to be keeping it more than 4-6 months from the day you opened it anyway. Your eyeshadow crumbled? Get rid of it. You’ve had that foundation for a year? Aside from probably not being exactly the same color it was when you bought it (because evaporation changes the pigment load), it’s probably starting to grow nasty bacteria in it. Chuck it and get a new one.

If you take care of your products, you’ll get a better shelf life out of them, but still, don’t be afraid to throw something away before it’s empty. If your fragrance has turned rancid (it will have sort of a stale, scorched smell, or be significantly weaker and more alcohol-smelling), then you can’t bring that back or salvage it. It’s done. Likewise if a pressed-powder type product (blush, powder foundation, bronzer, eyeshadow, whatever) has crumbled. All trying to save it will do is make a mess. Whether you’ve paid good money for a product or not, you’re not obligated to keep it past its usefulness. It’s OK to throw things out. Makeup is cheap. Infections aren’t. Trust me.

The Only Unbreakable Fragrance Rule: Wear what you love!

Perhaps the biggest misconception in the fragrance world is one perpetuated by manufacturers and distributors, that fragrances (or, indeed, people) are separated into binary genders and that one shouldn’t cross the line. Admittedly, we have “unisex” fragrances, but you know what? I don’t think the gender lines exist. I’m an extremely femme kind of woman. There was a time, several years ago, that I was working an office job and didn’t even own jeans or sneakers. And yet, one of the best fragrances I’ve tried on lately has been strongly marketed as masculine. Viktor&Rolf’s Spicebomb, released as the male equivalent of the megahit Flowerbomb, with its grenade-shaped bottle and black-and-white ad featuring a man flexing his considerable bicep while holding a bottle, has a clear message in its marketing: This isn’t girly stuff. But the scent’s woody-cinnamon-sweet character does beautifully on my skin, as do the pepper-sandalwood-rose notes of Cartier’s Declaration d’Un Soir.

This isn’t limited to women wearing men’s fragrances, either. Sean Connery, as masculine an image as he has always projected (James freaking Bond, for heaven’s sake), has gone on record identifying Jicky as a personal favorite, and Mitsouko is well known to have been Charlie Chaplin’s signature scent.

Just like people are more complicated than simply masculine or feminine, so are fragrances. So forget the gender labels. Nobody’s going to be genital-checking you when you go to buy perfume. (If they do, file assault charges!) Just wear what you love, and be happy!

On speaking Human

I know a lot of pagans who are huge fans of Omnia. One song of theirs in particular, though, I find really disturbing. I feel like the intentions of the song–“Hey, pay attention to the animals, because our habits are destroying them”–were good. But its premise is just flawed.

Deep within the shadows I’m the hungry wolf you fear
But I can see that you’re the only evil creature here
Before you came we lived in peace but you have brought us death
I sing my pain up to the moon but it’s a waste of breath

OK, so…when exactly was this that an omnivore that lives primarily by hunting but isn’t at the top of his food chain ever lived in peace? I think this is a very common problem in the pagan community, that we think of the natural world as this magical utopia that humanity has fucked up. That’s not the case. Nature is messy. Humans aren’t the only animals that kill excessively. The term in animals is surplus or henhouse killing. In one case I remember reading about, hyenas killed 82 gazelles and only ate 13, leaving the rest behind. Sea otters in Monterey Bay have been observed raping baby seals to death. Bottlenosed dolphin males will team up to isolate a female from the rest of the pod and forcibly mate with her, sometimes keeping her away from the group and in their possession for weeks at a time. The natural world is a harsh place. Reality is as hard for animals as it is for humans. The next verse, though, really confuses me.

Upon a wing, a flying thing, to you I seem so small
But I look down on what you’ve done, my Raven’s eye sees all
You people like a cancer grow, destroying all you see
And 7 billion mutant monkeys, won’t listen to me

The common raven (Corvus corax) and the American crow (Corvus brachyrhyncos) are opportunistic feeders that are more than willing to help themselves to human trash. In fact, these two species actually tend to thrive in heavily human-populated areas. So the idea that a raven, of all animals, would accuse humans of “destroying all we see” is actually wildly inaccurate, and frankly, against a highly intelligent animal’s interests.

The attitudes that the song criticizes, it enforces. This idea that humans are somehow outside of and opposed to nature is how the human-driven destruction of our environment has taken place to begin with. Instead of viewing humanity as some kind of evil force, some kind of anti-nature, the only way that any kind of culture of conservation will ever take root is if we view ourselves as part of this world and recognize that its fate is bound to our own. We are not separate from the earth, and the natural world is not an enemy to be conquered. People who hold to this silly, white-light attitude that the natural world is all butterflies and rainbow farts until humans screw it up are reinforcing the idea that humans are somehow apart and above the rest of the species on this planet. It’s a different perspective, but it’s the same problem. It’s when we realize that we are all in this together and that we all have a responsibility to take care of the earth as we can that we will have a culture of concern for the planet and for each other.

Climate change, habitat destruction, and the introduction of non-native species are real problems, and humans have played a major role. However, to treat the natural world as something to be romanticized and seen through a fluffy-white-light filter while casting the humans as the villains is as much a contribution to the idea that humans and nature are unrelated as the idea that nature is deadly to humans and should be conquered.