ENTER THE PLATYPUS, ON ACHING FEET

Five million supposedly grown-up Canadian women have deformed their feet and thrown their anatomies out of joint by refusing to wear anything but the miniature torture chambers called needle-point shoes. But that’s all over now. Soon they’ll be refusing to wear anything but newer miniature torture chambers called platypus-point shoes

Shirley Mair May 20 1961

ENTER THE PLATYPUS, ON ACHING FEET

Five million supposedly grown-up Canadian women have deformed their feet and thrown their anatomies out of joint by refusing to wear anything but the miniature torture chambers called needle-point shoes. But that’s all over now. Soon they’ll be refusing to wear anything but newer miniature torture chambers called platypus-point shoes

Shirley Mair May 20 1961

ENTER THE PLATYPUS, ON ACHING FEET

Five million supposedly grown-up Canadian women have deformed their feet and thrown their anatomies out of joint by refusing to wear anything but the miniature torture chambers called needle-point shoes. But that’s all over now. Soon they’ll be refusing to wear anything but newer miniature torture chambers called platypus-point shoes

Shirley Mair

BY LATE SEPTEMBER five million Canadian women will probably take their feet out of needle-toed shoes and put them into shoes with square toes. The new fashion, called the “platypus” by fashion people and denounced as a “monstrosity” by one Canadian shoe manufacturer, has brought wails from foot specialists who are no more happy about this newest refinement of foot torture than they were about pointed toes.

An orthopedic surgeon in Toronto, who pleads anonymity because he “already has more feet than 1 can handle,” said recently that high heels and gimmicked toes can’t possibly fit the feet, and the feet become deformed trying to fit the shoes. Another specialist, Dr. Leonard Davies, said cynically, “We owe a debt to the shoe manufacturers and the stylists because a good part of our income comes from deformed feet.”

If this is the case, Davies and his colleagues also owe a debt to Canadian women. Although they like to think of themselves as reluctant to buy a new' shoe until it has been road-tested on New York’s Fifth Avenue, Canadians proved themselves to be the biggest suckers in the world for the pointed-toed, stiletto-heeled shoe. They were the first to accept the design and the only women who took the high-fashion evening style and wore it into the ground, at home, at work, and at play, day and night. The results of this fashion misadventure are hobbling into doctors’ offices all across the country.

Dr. Davies estimates that in every Canadian city, at least one woman goes into a hospital every day to have foot deformities operated on. “Many of these women,” he says, “are having operations so they can get back into the fashionable shoes that broke their feet in the first place.” What mystifies the experts (nearly all are men), who view the state of feminine foot health in Canada with increasing alarm, is that this form of injury is not only self-inflicted but done with full knowledge of the dangers.

Twelve years ago Dr. Joseph Lelyveld, chairman of the National Foot Health Council of the U. S., told the Shoe Manufacturers’ Association of Canada that “nearly every adult female knows what it means to suffer with sore feet.”

What’s more, the mothers and grandmothers of today’s torture victims had been loudly warned that they were crippling themselves in the name of fashionable footwear. Eighty years ago, William Henry Flower, professor of anato-

my and conservator of the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in England, condemned “the evil effect of the pointed toe” and "the absurdly high and narrow heel so often seen now on ladies’ boots, which throws the whole foot, and in fact the whole body, into an unnatural position in walking and produces diseases well known to all surgeons,, and makes the nearest approach yet effected by a civilized nation to the Chinese custom of deforming women’s feet by binding, which we regard with surprise and reprobation.”

For the past five years Canadian women have been squeezing their aching feet into facsimiles of the shoes Fowler condemned.

The latest news from the back rooms of the shoe salons doesn’t mean a change for the better, and even Montreal shoe manufacturers, who must follow fashion’s dictates or face bankruptcy, are shaking their heads sadly over the platypus toe. “I don’t want to make this shoe,” moaned Philip Del Grande, owner of one of Canada’s best-known shoe companies, and another complained, “This business is rotten.” Until last February, when fashion summoned the platypus away from the inland waters of Tasmania and Australia, few Canadians had heard of the mammal, or cared. By September every fashion-conscious woman will have taken a long look at the platypus, a shoe inspired by the creature’s duck-like bill. Used purposefully, it serves the platypus well in catching insects, crustaceans and worms. The question of how well it will perform for the adult human female foot gets no consideration. A woman certainly isn’t going to be coarse enough to ask why she should wear a shoe shaped like an animal’s beak rather than a human foot, because it has already been presented to her as a fait accompli. Who, in the mystic population of the fashion world, gives the orders? On whose say-so are women willing to jeopardize their ability to walk upright — the major physical difference between human beings and lesser animals?

Roger Vivier, resident shoe designer at the fashion house of Christian Dior, is the man taking credit for the platypus shoe. “I did not imitate, 1 was inspired,” he said. “In geometric forms there is only the round, the triangular and the square.” i

The fact that human feet are not geometrically round, or triangular, or square, bears no relation to Vivier’s problem. He and Charles Jourdan, another Parisian shoe designer, have simultaneously come CONTINUED ON PAGE 57

Enter the platypus, on a-ching feet

Continued from page 19

up with a square-toed shoe and it now looks as if the Frenchmen will sweep pointed-toed shoes off Canadian streets within the next six months.

They won’t be able to do it without help from many othçr birds in the fashion jungle. They can design a new shoe but someone else has to pick up the trail from them. Vivier put square-toes into Dior’s fall collection three years ago and they didn't get more than a precious glance from Vogue magazine, which said, “It’s touches we like, not just sable by the furlong. And this year at Dior, in the touches department, it was the shoes we loved . . . shoes with perverse, delightful, little squared-olf points. . . . We show them here as one of the Paris details that may make fashion history.”

Three years later, a combination of events has swung favor to Vivier’s squaretoed design. In the first place one fashion has to become dull or bizarre — even to the acclimatized eye of the viewer — before another one can replace it. Pointed-toed shoes and stiletto heels became so spindly and extreme in England that women had to develop the knack of walking up stairs sideways, like a crab, so their pointed toes wouldn’t spear the back of the stairs as they climbed up them.

In the second place many fashion pundits felt that Marc Bohan. Dior’s novitiate clothes designer, didn’t come up with enough in last February’s collection that was startling and new for them to write about. Vivier was still presenting his three-year-old shoes — hardly a fashion “first” in itself. But coxpled with the rumor that Parisians were lining up to buy Jourdan’s square-toes, the new shape was a shoo-in. The platypus became the “hottest fashion news” in Europe. Within days of the Dior showing, almost every newspaper in North America carried some kind of story about the Paris sensation and three short weeks afterward news magazines completed the coup by featuring the platypus as the heir apparent to the pointed toe.

In Canada, at least, manufacturers and retailers are cowed by the news. Even before the manufacturers could figure out whether they could afford to gamble hundreds of thousands of dollars on new lasts, women were in stores asking if they could see a platypus. Retailers wondered if their entire spring and summer stock of pointed-toed shoes had been made obsolete overnight. Don Young, son of Harry Young, a retailer of fashionable women’s shoes in Toronto, said, “How are we going to know if women will drop the pointed-toe and buy the square-toe? Retailers can keep a count of how many women have been asking for the shoe, but it won’t tell us much. In a city this size, there will always be at least a hundred women who want to be first to wear a new fashion. If each of them asks for

One Montreal shoe manufacturer admits that he sells fashion, not footwear: "I fit heads, not feet'

the shoe at ten different stores, we can be deceived into thinking that a thousand Toronto women want it. A thousand women can start a trend. A hundred can’t.”

But the manufacturers, to stay rrt the fashion business, can’t ignore a shoe that has been trumpeted around the world'. Toward the end of March each Montreal manufacturer had at least two versions of

the platypus ready for retailers to buy. Harry Markus, the stylist for Best Ever Footwear, tested samples of the shoe in seven stores across the country, choosing the shops where the most fashion-conscious women buy their shoes. One retailer reported back to Markus, “Style B. your more extreme square-toe, is selling better than Style A, but I think A will do better in the long run. Style B is being

bought by women who’ll buy anything if it’s new.”

If women are responsible for setting the styles (and one Montreal shoe manufacturer candidly admitted that he sold fashion, not footwear — “I fit heads, not feet”) blame must fall on the small segment of Canada’s female population who’ll buy Style B.

Fashion is to some extent the art of

distortion. A clever drape of material can annihilate human hips and a hidden seam can overemphasize a bosom. The more absurd the distortion, the more successful the result. But only in women’s footwear does fashion deliberately try to distort the shape by deforming the body. The Canadian woman deforms herself as severely as the Padaung woman of Burma, who dangerously weakens her windpipe and esophagus by forcing ring after metal ring around her neck. Only when she has succeeded in putting on the full fashion quota is she content.

To get the same warm satisfaction, her Canadian sister wears two-, threeand four-inch spikes of wood or aluminum under her heels. One doctor who made a study of the effects of fashion on bodily deformities had this to say about women’s shoes: They pitch her torso forward and she would collapse if she didn’t force herself back on her haunches. The effort produces pain along the spinal column — directly below the waistline, around the shoulders and even up into the head. Circulation in the deep blood vessels supplying the stomach and legs becomes impeded and although the chief reason for wearing the spike is to synthetically slenderize the leg, ankle and foot, the sluggish circulation makes the foot and ankle puffy.

The human foot uses three contact points to lift itself off the ground — the heel, the ball of the foot, and the great toe. A woman wearing any kind of pump — a shallow shoe gripped on by the heel and toe — partly or totally neutralizes the first and third contact points. The ball of the foot picks up the workload normally distributed through the three points.

If a 112-pound housewife wears highheeled pumps throughout her work day. she’s asking the ball of her foot to pick up and put down more than eight hundred tons of body weight. If the ball of the foot is forced into doing this work interminably, the pressure combined with the chafing between shoe and foot can produce a bunion around the first metatarsal joint, and calluses in the flesh of the ball; the toes, pushed forward against the front of the shoe, will develop corns or try to escape the irritating contact by curling up into hammertoes. Few women will be afflicted with all these deformities, but anyone who wears high heels continually will pay for it.

How, then, can women wear these miniature torture chambers day after day, year after year, and say they have no trouble — even pretend that they are comfortable?

Rayfield Aronow, a Los Angeles podiatrist, believes women have been conditioned to deceive themselves. His theory is that if a woman kicks off her shoes at the first civilized opportunity — whether it’s in a darkened theatre or the minute she steps into her home — she is getting a clue that she may be torturing herself physically and mentally without realizing it.

"Women, of course, suffer more with their feet by reason of the additional aggravation from their high heels and more highly styled, tighter shoes.” Aronow wrote in the journal of the American Podiatry Association last September. “[But] ultimately, the persistent discomfort will be subverted from the stream of consciousness, though not without toll. It is for this reason women can usually insist that their tight shoes do not bother them. So far as they are aware, it is true.”

In 1958 Canadian women bought —

and kicked off — eleven million pairs of high-fashion pumps, paying about a hundred and fifty million dollars for the privilege. The pointed-toe. stiletto-heel shoe hid been on the market for two years aird every woman worth her fashion spice had at least two pairs. Nowhere else in the world was this shoe so rapidly accepted and so badly misinterpreted as in Canada. The pointed-toe was originally meant as a dress shoe, but Canadian warnen walked it through supermarkets, worked it nine-to-five, broke its emaciated heels as frequently as twice a month and willingly paid three dollars each time they had to have them replaced.

Manufacturers were astounded. They had timidly brought out the pointed-toe shoe a full season ahead of most of their American counterparts, and once Quebec

women saw it, they wouldn’t buy anything else. Ontario women had the same reaction. The shoe had skipped to Vancouver, returned through the prairies and had made inroads into the Maritimes before American women saw it “introduced” in Life magazine in 1957. Life said, "this shoe ends in the sharpest possible point.”

It didn’t. The first version of the pointed-toe was called the “taper.” Rumors hissed of an even narrower toe. Manufacturers changed lasts and came up with the “single needle” toe. There was more talk and manufacturers changed lasts again and made a “double needle” or “pin” toe.

“I thought I was going to have to change my lasts as often‘as I change my shirts,” L. A. Denenberg, a partner in the Montreal shoemaking firm of Denny Stewart, remembers. It wasn’t over yet. Toward the end of last year, the market was satiated with the “triple needle” toe.

Any woman who has a pair of these shoes can prove to herself how poorly they fit if she places her bare foot firmly on a piece of paper, traces an outline of the foot, and places her shoe on top of the outline. The outline will always overlap the shoe. If it didn't, the foot couldn’t keep the shoe on.

Within the limited confines of fashion, Canadian manufacturers have done everything they can to make that shoe fit. Women can buy shoes in nine widths and twenty sizes, and the pointed-toes were made sufficiently wide to accommodate

the toes in the widest part of the shoe. Not enough women knew where their toes were supposed to stop, and too many shoe clerks didn’t either.

Happily, some of the foot problems women could have incurred wearing the stiletto heel were abated when manufacturers brought out the “illusion" heel, three quarters the height of the stiletto but just as slender. Whether fashion will ever allow women to come completely down to earth is debatable.

High heels and their concurrent evils have become so ingrained into our think-

ing and our hardwood floors that even people who deplore them most accept them without thinking.

A widely circulated booklet on shoes and foot health, which rampages through the list of deformities high heels inflict, closes with a picture of a slender, healthy, confident family — a young lad is holding his father’s hand, a younger girl is holding her mother's hand, and the father and mother are holding hands, as they all walk smilingly into the future. Boy. girl and father are wearing oxfords; mother is tottering along in high heels,