Clothes (2)

It’s a long, slippery road to better women’s shoes

“I’m spending a lot of money on golf carts because I can’t walk around the golf course,” says Mrs. George, an avid golfer who lives in Mississauga.

She blames both falls on the shoes she was wearing – in particular, the thin disc of plastic at the bottom of the heels. Shoemakers call this the “lift.”

Although the heel lifts on women’s best dress shoes plantar fasciitis used to be made of rubber, most manufacturers and importers have now switched to synthetics, which are harder and more durable.

“The lifts on women’s shoes are like tires on a car – they have to withstand a tremendous pressure and a large amount of wear,” says Ross Campbell, president of Continental Heel Ltd. in Waterloo, which makes polyurethane lifts for shoe manufacturers and shoe repair stores.

“Rubber, unless it’s extremely hard, won’t last. But the harder the material, the more slippery it is, especially on hard surfaces.”

The heels on many women’s shoes today are narrow, much like the stiletto heels of the 1950s. The tip is often no bigger than a dime.

“A rubber lift would only last from here to across the street,” says Martin Kerpel, technical director of Moneysworth & Best, a shoe repair chain which uses heel lifts made from polyurethane mixed with a small amount of rubber. The rubber gives resiliency, the polyurethane durability.

Mr. Kerpel says many manufacturers use cheap plastic lifts, which turn rigid in cold weather. He has seen good imported shoes with plastic lifts hard enough to give women a jolt every time they take a step.

Shoe repair stores charge $3 to $5.50 for heel lifts, but say they use a better-quality material than the original. Some women so strongly agree that they immediately replace the lifts on every pair of best walking shoes for bunions they buy.

The hardness of women’s heel lifts is a concern to shoe retailers, who often hear from customers about it.

“This has been a chronic problem,” says Francois Geissel, international research and development manager for Bata Shoe Stores. “At this stage, there is no perfect material that has a soft rubbery feel but lasts for a long time.”

Jack Shand, president of the Canadian Shoe Retailers Association, says the question of women’s heel lifts comes up at each annual convention.

“Retailers are probably just as frustrated as consumers,” says Mr. Shand. “We have asked manufacturers and importers to put better lifts on women’s shoes; we have insisted, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.”

At least 60 per cent of women’s shoes sold in Canada are imported, he points out.

After an investigation several years ago, Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada concluded there was not enough data to justify regulation of women’s shoes under the Hazardous Products Act.

“There definitely is an issue there and we’re monitoring it,” said product safety spokesman Georges Desbarats.

This isn’t good enough for Yvonne George, who is urging Consumer and Corporate Affairs and her MP to make shoe manufacturers change their materials.

“It’s not right to put the onus on customers to examine the heels of the shoes they are buying,” she says. “Innocent people like me will not know they should make this examination until they have had one or two falls.”

“I am not a young person and I could have easily broken a hip. I was lucky not to do so, but I did suffer pain and considerable inconvenience through no fault of my own.

“At the rate I am falling, I will wear out before the lift does.”


Seeking out accessories

Now that you know all about the clothes we’re going to wear come fall, here’s the lowdown on next season’s most important accessories, the essential details that will spell up-to-date fashion.

Starting from the top, hats are a fall essential, the final punctuation to almost every outfit. Berets head the list, ranging from the classic disc shape in bright contrast colors, big, poufy velvet variations (at Kenzo), or oversized hexagonal shapes (Kenzo), to stiff-banded Highland berets, such as Betty Jackson’s. Then there are all those big, snood-like medieval-looking toques, best illustrated by Karl Lagerfeld’s giant fur bag-like toppers for Fendi. Add Russian cossack toques such as Valentino’s, especially in Astrakhan, fur-bordered calottes and dozens of fez-like variants, such as Valentino’s and Saint Laurent’s; plenty of matador hats (Tarlazzi) and umpteen equestrian-inspired riding helmets.

The super-size, all-enveloping, giant cowls and hoods, while they are very often attached to coats, sweaters, jackets and dresses, also work splendidly as a separate, optional addition. Azzedine Alaia’s, for example, were merely sensational when matched to thick- ribbed natural wool sweaters or in opulent fur, and I can’t think of a better warm-up invention for winter. Napoleonic tricornes stole the show at Lagerfeld and even at Chanel.

In Paris, evening calls for the most extravagant and fanciful frivolities, improbably perched atop even scalp-length hair; frothy concoctions made of snippets of lace, feathers and glitter. Great fun, super- feminine and flattering, provided you have the chutzpah to carry them off.

Hair, for the most part, is still resolutely short or anonymously chignoned, the better to showcase all the headgear listed above. When it has been allowed to grow longer, the style is ultra-simple and unfussy. Of course, there are exceptions, ranging from the frankly unkempt, to windmill effects, to flat crowns and curious winged extrusions – a singularly unflattering look you should give a complete miss to. Bleaching hair platinum blonde and cutting it into a stiff brush is another unhappy idea making unattractive inroads.

The newest makeup looks flat and somewhat mask-like – totally devoid of shading, contour or blush. The vampire-red lips have thankfully gone, replaced by softer, prettier and much more appealing rosy or peach shades. Valentino used plums and purples with a lavish hand, with fuchsia- shaded brow bones and ultraviolet eyes.

Jewelry is either non-existent or else gigantic, utterly and frankly fake. By universal acclaim, pearls are it, and nowhere were pearls more effectively or more extravagantly displayed than in Betty Jackson’s show, where lavish ropes of giant pearls were slung about with abandon, or shaped into giant heraldic crests or baroque brooches; or at Armani, where Butler and Wilson’s slinky pearl snakes glided across the bodices of cashmere sweaters or circled the waistlines of Directoire-style dresses. For Betty Jackson, Monty Don also produced chatelaines (these are making a big comeback) with giant keys and super-size, key-shaped earrings. Tassels are another favourite decoration (at Yves Saint Laurent and Bernard Perris), as are chains, often studded with glitter. Big hatpins skewer hats and lapels; giant pins look great clipped on to shoulders or on sleeves and paste military jewels and medals have lost none of last season’s appeal.

Coins are also much in evidence and, with the fashion accent firmly on the wrist, twin cuff bracelets are a favorite decoration.

Silver has a slight edge over gold, especially in Italy. Speaking of the wrist, the gauntlet glove, embellished with lace, filigree, fur, appliques, sequins or paste jewels is a must-have, as presented by Armani, Lagerfeld, Chanel and Montana, to name but a few of its advocates. Gloves in general are important.

Zippers, tassels and studs, metallic or jewelled, turned up frequently, especially at Dorothee Bis, Alaia, Ferragamo and Basile.

Sunglasses are a major accessory with Alain Mikli cornering the market on the more exotic examples, including some dangerously winged models for Complice and Montana – plenty of fun when played for laughs. Otherwise, the darker the better, with mirrored lenses and narrow wraparounds much in evidence.

As for shoes, they ranged from crepe or rubber-soled construction bootlets (Armani and Kenzo); spatted looks (Armani and Betty Jackson); alpine

footwear (Alaia and Montana) to the insubstantial, jeweled filaments perched atop sliver-thin heels that passed for shoes at Valentino. Similarly fragile footwear showed up at Lanvin, Ungaro and Zandra Rhodes, even with daywear. Of course, it’s daywear designed for women who get up at 4 p.m. – or, as one wag put it at Ungaro, for “Les Grandes Horizontales.” Tarty they may well be, but we women have always been pushovers for sexy shoes. The best boots, bar none, were designed by the Peter Pan of fashion, Kenzo, above-the-knee Robin Hood styles in soft, crushy, unlined suedes.

Patent leather is making inroads for fall in shoes, belts and handbags. Belts are frequently big and bold-buckled, used to hold in jacket fullness or to cinch the waist above a flared peplum.

Handbags are getting larger and thus considerably more practical. Chanel’s chain- slung quiltings are also back in favor.

There are shawls aplenty, generously wrapped or hanging loose, serape- style, matched or contrasted to ensembles, plus lots of lacy or chiffon scarves, jabots and cravats.

Legs are almost always well-covered with black or colored hose; sheer wools in bright colors or woven men’s wear patterns. A favorite look everywhere is the monochromatic top-to-toe effect – shoes, hose, gloves, handbag and hat exactly matched to the ensemble.

Socks, matched to the shoe or pant and roll-cuffed are the essential bridge between fall’s inescapable stirrup ski pant, and (preferably) flat shoes. Or, most successful of all, wear the ski pant with ankle or mid- calf boots. If you must wear them with high heels, color-match the pant, hose and shoe so there is no color break. Nothing looks less appealing or more ungainly than a too-visible stirrup or bits of visible flesh breaking up the streamlined length of leg.