“Don’t Give Shoes to Somebody You Love, or They’ll Use Them to Run Away:” The Fascination of Saddle Shoes

I’ve only had two shoe obsessions in my life – Converse Chuck Taylor All Star hi-tops and mary-jane flats – but I’ve recently added a new one: saddle shoes. Reminiscent of the decades in which they were trendy (the 1940s but especially the 1950s), they still keep their naïve charm intact, especially when they are part of an outfit which hints at the past. It’s not a case that characters from movies and tv shows have often worn them, thus fueling that nostalgic current which people like me are so passionate about.

audreyhorne_saddleshoes (2)The first character wearing saddle shoes that comes to my mind is the femme fatale Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), the naughty yet nice schoolgirl from David Lynch’s tv masterpiece Twin Peaks. She wears them with prim and proper outfits (crew neck sweaters in pastel colours and pleated plaid or pencil skirts), thus highlighting the “good girl” impression she wants to give.

audreyhorne_saddleshoes (3)Just like any other character in town, Audrey hides a naughty and seductive side, symbolized by the scarlet red pumps she wears at school. Her style, accented by short hair and sexy make-up, reminds me of another naughty high school queen, Betty Rizzo. As for her saddle shoes, they are peculiar: despite being in the traditional white and black combo, they have black accents on the heelcaps and on part of the vamp, while the toecaps, the throat, tongue and eyelets are white. Even if the ultimate finishing detail – coral soles – is missing, Audrey’s shoes are gorgeous.

rorygilmore_saddleshoesRory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel), the young protagonist of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Gilmore Girls, is another fictional character who wears saddle shoes as part of her school attire. Like Audrey Horne, she wears a pleated plaid skirt, paired to a shirt with tie and a blazer. Rory is nothing like Audrey, but her “good girl” side is definitely emphasized by her shoe choice.

amberholt_saddleshoesAmber Holt (Mae Whitman), among the protagonists of the tv show Parenthood, is a frequent saddle-shoe wearer, too. The rebellious girl pairs them with basic outfits featuring quirky details; she apparently owns two pairs, one with red saddle and one with black saddle; judging from the screencap above, the latter could have coral soles, after all.

lastpicture0127bAudrey, Rory and Amber are characters from tv shows, but films are filled with women wearing saddle shoes, too. One of them is Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), the beautiful protagonist of Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971). Jacy, like Audrey, is pretty and wealthy, but she’s also deeply unhappy, eventually not able to get what she really wants. She wears a pair of saddle shoes with the classic saddle shape in black on the middle part of the vamp, on the throat, tongue and eyelets. The film is set in the early 1950s, so her outfits refer to that historical period.

aleagueoftheirown_saddleshoesAnother film where saddle shoes make an appearance is A League of Their Own (1992) by Penny Marshall, which tells the story of how the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was born. Among the protagonists there’s Mae Mordabito (Madonna), a tough-talking taxi dancer from New York who takes the role of centre field in the Rockford Peaches team. She’s the one who wears classic saddle shoes to dance. Wearing a black dress with white floral pattern, she pairs the shoes to white ankle socks – a flawless look.

suzybishop_saddleshoes (1)Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), the doe-eyed and pouting protagonist of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012) wears her saddle shoes with knee socks instead. In the film, set in 1965, the 12-year-old girl sports two pairs of saddle shoes. The first one appears in the opening sequence, where she’s reading, sitting on a window seat, while her three younger brothers are listening to music. They are white with a red saddle; she wears them with a peach shift dress with white collar and cuffs.

suzybishop_saddleshoes (2)Later in the film, she wears a very similar dress (acid yellow, this time), ruffled knee socks and a different pair of saddle shoes, with the traditional black saddle and white soles. These shoes are perfectly in tune with Suzy’s character, a bored young girl who wants to experiment with her feelings and the wild adventures that meeting a boy like Sam Shakusky can offer.

ontheroad_saddleshoesFunny how saddle shoes are often associated to wild girls. An example of this is Marylou (Kristen Stewart), the 16-year-old wife of Dean Moriarty in Walter Salles’ On the Road (2012), adaptation of the 1957 novel of the same title written by Jack Kerouac. The sex scenes which included Stewart are probably the reason why so much has been written about the film, but her shoes are definitely more interesting. She’s a young girl, and as such she wears saddle shoes (classic model, white with black saddle). The contrast between the imagery the shoes are connected with and the character is intriguing.

stoker_saddleshoesAll these characters and their saddle shoes pale in comparison to India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), the intense protagonist of Park Chan-wook’s Stoker (2013), a film which blew me away with its visual perfection and spine-chilling plot. The shoe symbology has a primary function in the story: as the film’s costume designers Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller explained, “the saddle shoes are representative of innocence and youth, while the high heels [1] are symbolic of the change taking place in India.”

indiastoker_saddleshoesIndia Stoker is all about control and self-discovery. The path she walks on goes through mourning her father’s loss, but also meeting and confronting with the most enigmatic and elusive presence in her life, Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). She identifies herself with the white and black saddle shoes by Muffy’s Enterprises she’s been wearing since she was a child, but when the plot discloses where these shoes come from (they’re all Uncle Charlie’s presents), we understand the constant control he has exerted on her life since its beginning.

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Starting from here, India will slowly take control of her own life, yet she will keep on wearing her saddle shoes until the end. Family drama, violence and a painful process of self-definition and self-discovery are elements which make the film special; shoe fetishism gives it depth and complexity. But beware: the obsessive presence of shoe shots can be addictive and start a serious craving for saddle shoes. I’m currently obsessed with them, even if they’re not my style, so much that I’m thinking of getting a pair from Muffy’s Enterprises. If you want to channel your inner India Stoker, you’d better take it seriously.

[1] The crocodile high-heeled pumps worn by India are by Christian Louboutin. It’s important to notice they are the 18th birthday present from Uncle Charlie.

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3 comments

  1. I have a pair of saddles shoes like that of Jacy Farrow. These were hand me downs from my oldest sister who couldn’t stand saddle shoes and refused to wear them. Needless to say they are just like new and every now and then I wear them out shopping. People will always take a second glace when they see someone wearing black & white saddle shoe oxfords.

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