About a year ago, a few of us here at Refinery29 started to notice an interesting trend afoot (pun not entirely intended): Grandma shoes. It started, as many of the more head-scratchy trends often do, at Fashion Week, when editors and bloggers the planet over like to bust out their boldest artifacts and strangest new obsessions for a little road test. Among the latest regalia, a new breed of "sensible," grandmotherly shoe became a common theme: a style that's not only still going WAY strong, but has me thinking about Grandmas in general. My own grandmother, a first-generation Italian-American, who moved in with us to a two-family home on the South Shore of Long Island in the ‘70s, was, for a long time, my fashion idol. In many ways, she still is.
At 8 years old (arguably the birth of my affection for old-lady fashion) my favorite pastime was not riding my bike, playing with dolls, nor watching The Love Boat on TV. It was chilling with my grandmother upstairs in her tiny, doily-filled apartment, while she cooked tomato sauce and I dug through her enormous collection of hats, shoes, and costume jewelry, wearing as much of it as I could at one time. I am sure I looked ridiculous — and I loved it all.
My grandmother was the quintessential "old lady": She didn't drive; she worked as a telephone operator only briefly during the war, and ceremoniously never worked again after she got married; she got her hair tinted and set weekly by my Aunt Lita down the street (a very au courant shade of bluish lavender), and painted her nails herself along with insisting on washing all her nylons, house coats, and underthings in her bathroom sink. (Apparently conventional washing machines were for pussies.)
My grandmother was the first person to teach me how to wear makeup (a little powder, "rouge" on the cheeks, and the right red lipstick), and to appreciate that fake jewelry was sometimes more precious than the real thing. When she died, she left her two diamond rings to my sister; all her other glitzy heirlooms — hand-knit sweaters, fur stoles, festooned hats in original boxes, vintage Schiaparelli cabochon necklaces, and lots of size 5 shoes — she left to me. Never mind that I’m a size 9; or maybe she just didn't think anyone else would appreciate them. Except me. But back to those Grandma shoes. I recently attended an Instagram workshop led by Eva Chen, who was, coincidentally enough, wearing the quintessential Grandma shoe of the moment: The Chanel two-toned slingback. She wore them with slim jeans and, funny enough, what I can only describe as a Grandpa sweater. She looked great, and seemed to personify why these shoes are so appealing right now.
For one, they're comfortable. As someone who felt proud of finally purging my entire closet of every stinkin' pair of pinchy shoes, I find this low-heeled, round-toed breed a breath of fresh air. Let thy toes stretch and be liberated! Better still, they appeal to what makes them a true Grandma shoe in the first place: They don't give one single fuck what anyone thinks of them. Just like a real Grandma.
By the time women get to be real Grandmas, they've likely already been through it. My own grandmother had lived through a lot — a house burning down, five major wars, one stillbirth, the Depression, living with my Grandfather who smoked cigars with the windows closed in their tiny apartment and then dropped dead of kidney failure. She couldn't drive, had no money of her own, and therefore had extreme limits on her freedom. So, when it came to how my grandmother dressed, she wore what she damn well wanted. And for whatever reason, from a very early age, this is what I loved most about her, and it's what I always remember: her powerful sense of self and how she expressed it, in the only way she could — limits and all — through the things she wore and how she wore them.
My grandmother's favorite Grandma shoes were those many of us covet right now: clean square heel, maybe a bright suede or shiny brocade, possibly a sling-back and a round toe. Gucci's metallic loafers have been as coveted as Yeezys this winter, and Chanel's two-toned sling-backs are so ubiquitous and photographable, it's impossible to log onto Instagram without seeing a pair. Prim heeled ballet flats and throwback pumps have become the footwear of choice for the coolest girls I see on the subway. And given it's winter, there's a good chance they're — and I'm — going to wear them with stockings or thin, colorful socks (just like my grandmother Angela Concetta would).
Who knows how long the Grandma shoe will hold court in the ongoing battle for the title of It Shoe of the Moment. But when it begins its retirement, let's try keep the spirit of all those grandmas who came before us alive and well — by finally dressing for US and not giving two shits what anyone thinks about it.
I know my own Grandma would be proud.