I just spent five days in Washington, D.C., at the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting and, while I am sure there were many things I should have been doing to prepare myself for the intensity of the information and social overload that was ahead, I found myself focusing on shoes as I prepared for the conference.
Here’s the thing about women’s shoes and conferences. You really can’t wear daytime “business” shoes for two days in a row since they are just not designed for all the walking and standing you need to do. So if you’re going to a two-day conference you need two different pairs of daytime shoes. You also need a pair of comfortable walking-around/traveling shoes, and if you’ve got an evening party you also want a pair of dressy shoes. We’re now up to four pairs of shoes for two days. Stupid, right?
To be honest there are comfortable business shoes for women, but they can be prohibitively expensive and frankly, don’t tend to be very fashionable. And yes, you can wear comfortable shoes, but no matter what color they are, they pretty much always look like comfortable shoes.
Flats in a variety of styles and colors are increasingly available, and generally are better for the walking around part (although still may not give enough support for standing for long periods of time), but when you’re only five feet tall like me, at least a little bit of heel is required to hold your own with taller colleagues.
And here’s another thing. I, like many other women—and lots of men, too—really, really like shoes. I’m sure there’s a sociological, if not psychological doctoral dissertation to be written here, but it is undeniable that shoes are fun. Honestly, would Sex in the City really have been so popular if they were all wearing running shoes the way women actually do in New York City?
For the most part my male colleagues can manage with one, or maybe two pairs of shoes, no matter how long a conference lasts. To be fair, I have noticed that men are beginning to wear comfortable shoes, too, but then again, who looks at men’s shoes? And while we’re on the subject of men’s and women’s clothing, most conference spaces set their temperature controls to be comfortable for men in suits and ties. That means the rest of us get to wear a variety of sweaters, jackets and the ever-indispensable shawl. My guess is that it is conference-going women who are responsible for the continued success of the pashmina.
I have now developed the habit of laying out all the possible shoes I could wear and then slowly narrowing down my choices to a mere three or four (and the outfits that would go with them). Several years ago, when I was doing some last minute shoe-shopping I hit upon one possible solution. When asked by the eager young salesman what I was looking for, I almost said “the Ruby Slippers.” And then I realized, that was exactly what I needed. They fit Dorothy perfectly, they went with everything (although she never actually changed her clothes), were obviously comfortable enough to walk long distances and even dance in, ensured everyone’s success, and got her home safely. I never found the shoes, but I do have a Ruby Slippers pin that I wear often at conferences.
When I told people I was writing about women’ shoes and conferences, I didn’t know whether this was going to be funny, angry or satirical. So many women – and men – I talked to had their own shoe stories that I realized what I have to say is clearly affirming for me and my colleagues. So, no, it is not stupid to pack four pairs of shoes—or more—for a two-day conference. Unless, of course, you do happen to own the Ruby Slippers.
[Editor’s note: The author has provided supporting evidence in the form of pictures of AAM attendees’ feet. These can be seen below.]