Ranked first for nightlife among the cities of the world—surpassing Rio, Ibiza, New York and all the rest—Las Vegas is also first in club fashion. Which is where the shoes come in.
Not just any shoes. These are shoes that could stop a semi on the L.A.-Salt Lake City run through town, shoes that would make your grandmother blanche, shoes that are easily mistaken for sex toys (maybe they are sex toys). Not even in the heyday of Elton John and Cher did shoes ever dare to push the boundary of their shoe-ness to such an extreme that they lose their shoe-identity. (Some women wear Frank Gehry buildings on their feet.) We live, quite simply, in the most passionate and inventive period for shoe fashion that the planet has ever seen.
Vegas is Ground Zero for footwear, since dressing up and going to the clubs is the main reason why cadres of smiling young women come to town. Some of them pack their precious shoes in their carry-ons; others buy them right here. Second only to food & drink is the availability of shoes on the Strip. At the über-chic Crystals mall, for example, it’s hard to find a store among the raft of high-end retailers which doesn’t have a pair of gold-lacquer wedgies with jewel-encrusted straps in the window.
But it’s at night, long after the shops close their doors, that the spectacle begins, when groups of twittering females line up to get into the clubs, dressed in all their studied finery. Their hemlines are short; their hair coiffed; their lip-liner neat. But no matter how gorgeous the face and figure, no matter how perfect the dress, it’s the shoes that steal the show, almost as if footwear was in revenge mode: I’m not made just to be walked on any longer! I want center stage!
The kick of shoes is, quite literally, at its height. Stilettos at 6 inches are no longer worn only by drag queens—secretaries from Detroit wear them to XS at the Wynn Las Vegas. Such precipitous heights are reached by adding a platform under the ball of the foot. Often the platform blends in with the substantial toe-box, so that the woman looks as if her foot might resemble a bear paw if she dared take it out. And maybe it does. Allow me to break the news: some women are getting surgical ball-of-the-foot implants to—you guessed it—wear extraordinary shoes.
Certainly making the foot comply with shoe design is central to the new waves of fashion. Bondage motifs prevail—many shoes come with a Medusa of straps to rope the foot in. Some have little locks hanging from the heel, and some have wire mesh. Yves St. Laurent came out with a popular model that resembles a cage.
But while the foot itself has been bound and tamed, the shoe’s heel has been granted complete freedom. No longer a dutiful, dull pillar beneath the foot, it is now a series of stacked acrylic beads, or modeled in the shape of a ladder, or sculpted to look like a wave, or painted with a boudoir scene, or even made to disappear—shoe designers lengthen the platform beneath the insole so that the heel of the foot seems to hang in space, propped on air alone. And voilà: magic shoe.
The ankle, too, is receiving a strange, almost disturbing, focus, with the rims of the shoes opening like lips around the foot so that it seems to disappear into a mouth of leather and suede. Perhaps those young beauties, standing with their feet sucked into artificial hooves, are texting incantations into their phones.
One wonders at the meaning of it all. Experts in these matters claim that the foot is a surrogate for the sexual body—hence terms like “toe cleavage” (when the cracks between toes are visible) and “peek-a-boo” toes (when the toes peek from the tip of the shoe). By revealing parts of their feet, are women really broadcasting their sexual availability? The S&M models seem to suggest that if the foot is naughty, so is the girl.
Moving on up, the heel of the shoe is considered a phallic symbol—the taller the heel, the greater a woman’s desire. I’m not sure where that leaves the “invisible heel” shoes—probably to the imagination.
So there they stand, night after night in Vegas—our lovely girls, yanking down their hems and clutching their evening bags in line outside the Tao or Vanity or Lavo. They totter, they limp, they take precarious little steps, pretending not to notice the blisters. Feminist claims that the new era of footwear reflects female sexual dominance do not take into account the awkwardness in the field. Sometimes the casino aisles approaching the clubs are choked with beautiful, hobbled women.
Wearing symbols of sexual power and predilection on your feet is not an easy thing to do. Nor is wearing extreme footwear that is a synonym for desire. It’s especially hard if you’ve just flown into Vegas for a few days and you don’t really have the hang of how to walk in your extraordinary shoes, let alone a clear idea of the distance you’ll have to travel from the doors of the MGM Grand to the Tabu.
Once, at the entrance to Pure at Caesar’s Palace, I saw an attractive woman standing barefoot, holding her stilettos in her hand. I guess she was going to put them on when she sat down.
* Feature photo by Ace Jackalope