A few mornings ago, I was walking down West 15th Street when a bike messenger whizzed alongside me and shouted so close and so loud it almost made me drop my coffee. “White boots! I SEEEEE YOU!” It startled me, but caused me to look down at my still bright white patent boots somewhat lovingly.
Yep, white boots, or more accurately, optic white shoes — I see YOU.
Every few seasons a footwear trend comes along that doesn’t just capture our fancy, it tramples any other fledgling trend in its path. And at this particular point in time, blinding white shoes are IT — from runways to street style roundups to basically every Instagram star's all-weather shoe of choice. And, it’s not just a fashion person trend either. Because you can spot them on everyone from Cardi B in her lace-up Steve Madden stilettos to suburban weekenders doing their best '90s rap homage in their pristine white Nike Air Force Ones. No matter who you are, opting for all-electric-white shoes says something — maybe a few things — about your state of mind, and most likely a need to stand out. Because, you’re nothing if not noticeable in neon white footwear.
White shoes could be one of fashion’s most basic articles of rebellion, both in their resistance to the status quo (or blending in) and their ongoing, unavoidable dance with danger (i.e. dirt). And, this is as true for a $30 pair of sparkling white Keds as it is for $1,700 pair of knee-high Gianvito Rossis.
Growing up in the suburbs of Long Island, white shoes weren’t a trend at all: They were the enemy. Once out of their packaging, whether for holy communion or dance class, we all knew where things were headed: grass stains, scuffs, grape gum, the inevitable dog poop. White shoes were literally asking for it, every single second you were wearing them. Which is why, save “special” occasions, we rarely wore them at all, unless, of course, the point was to lovingly mess them up, as with a pair of high-top Converse or Adidas Superstars, when high-school mud splatters and bright smears of magic marker were a point of pride. But outside of the suburbs, their hipness looked like something else entirely.
Historically, it’s not hard to find examples of white shoes over decades, extending their blinding alabaster glow well beyond fashion and clothing into culture itself. Back in the ‘60s in Los Angeles, Whisky A Go-Go was deemed one of the earliest and most popular “discotheques” in America, and became notable for many things, but perhaps mostly for their infamous go-go dancers — women suspended in cages dancing in signature stark-white knee-high boots. Despite the irony of actual cages, these boot-clad women (allegedly) projected the image of warriors — powerful and untouchable. Released from their confines...watch out!
Many credit the designer André Courrèges for designing the white go-go boot, but it was probably women like Nancy Sinatra and Jane Fonda, as '60s glamazon Barbarella, who made these shoes a true symbol of female defiance: of power and independence — life on her terms. Sinatra’s hit song “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” detail a woman’s discovery of her “cheatin’, lyin', messin’” man, but maybe better than her classic line, about how one of these days, “these boots are gonna walk all over you,” she simply closes out the song and “starts walkin’.” Away and on her own.
Because who needs that loser, anyway?
Two decades later, the trend had another rebellious milestone. In 1984, Madonna created one of the most historic MTV moments of all time by descending a tiered wedding cake, ripping off her veil, and letting loose her perfect ceremonial hair to writhe around onstage in a punk white dress and satin pumps, singing the year’s anthem, “Like A Virgin.” While it didn’t directly challenge the conventions of marriage or a woman’s freedom to sex as a single woman, her performance was, politically, right on cue. That very year, Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to nab a vice presidential nomination on a major party ticket and the State of Mississippi finally ratified the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote (NOT kidding, people). Just a year after that, Emily’s List was founded with a mission to elect more Democratic, pro-abortion rights women to office.
So, maybe it’s no surprise optic white shoes have chosen this moment to make their comeback. Or, more accurately, that we’ve chosen them: to stand out and join the resistance during a period marked by a turbulent, openly anti-women administration, and the ongoing call out and takedown of the entertainment and media industries most powerful and menacing kingpins.
Elaine Welteroth, editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, isn’t shy about showing her everyday devotion to her now-signature tall white Laurence Dacade boots, most notably during a year when her voice and image have never been more prominent or in demand. She wears them everywhere and with everything, from gowns to jeans, defying the predictable image of what kinds of shoes a fancy "editor-in-chief" should wear, and when.
Because no “shoulds” here. Not anymore. We, of the optic white shoe movement, could care less about stains, traditions, practicality, classic femininity...or, gah!, convention.
Yeah, all you white shoes — WE SEE YOU.